Members believe that strengthening health systems and capacity is essential to achieving sustainable recovery from COVID-19 and bringing back prosperity to the people, according to a release issued at the 11th APEC High-Level Meeting on Health & the Economy and received here on Wednesday.
Health ministers, academics, industry leaders, and representatives from governmental and international organizations convened for the 11th APEC High-Level Meeting on Health and the Economy on Tuesday (August 24) against the backdrop of a resurgence in COVID-19 infections globally due to the more transmissible Delta variant, which only highlighted the disparity in health systems’ capacity and vaccination coverage.
Opening the high-level meeting, New Zealand’s Minister of Health, Andrew Little, underscored the significance of close cooperation and coordinated response when confronted with an unprecedented and continuing health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic globally while urging members to bolster collaboration to ensure health equity.
"The pandemic has protracted for 20 months, and the world is still adjusting to the uncertainty it brings and the constant way the virus changes," Minister Little remarked.
"One thing that is certain, however, is that good health and economic prosperity are interdependent," he emphasized.
"When we look across the world, we can see the toll of COVID-19 has not been borne equally ... either between countries or within countries. The poorest have been hit the hardest," he added.
Hence, Little called on all APEC member economies to work together, both within the APEC and more widely, to put equity at the heart of all efforts to combat COVID-19.
Vaccination coverage across APEC is noticeably diverse, ranging from 148 doses per 100 residents to a low of only one dose per 100 residents.
Consequently, the rate of fully vaccinated people across economies varies greatly, from as low as 0.2 percent to as high as 72 percent of the population as of mid-August.
Minister Little remarked that international trade forums are critical to safeguarding the equitable supply of vaccines and related COVID-19 therapeutic products and reflected in the advancements made during APEC 2021 in this area.
"This year, we are taking action to strengthen international supply chains for COVID-19 vaccines and related goods to ensure their swift and efficient distribution," he affirmed.
"It is vital that we strengthen our collective efforts on trade barriers and that we help facilitate increased manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and related products," he reiterated.
The high-level meeting also focused on the impact of COVID-19 on women and vulnerable groups.
APEC members and experts discussed policy measures that support equitable access to healthcare services for these communities as well as enable a safe return to work.
Members and experts have suggested to incorporate health equity into trade and supply chains for vaccines and other medical products, looking at the role of regulatory convergence to improve the resiliency of supply chain.
Sustainable investments in pandemic prevention and preparedness are also paramount to expediting economic recovery, mitigating the negative impacts on livelihoods, and reducing the possibility of future health shocks. Members agreed that investment in health systems is a strategic asset for economic resiliency.
"We all have a role to play in ensuring that the global community emerges stronger from this pandemic," Minister Little stressed.
"Our approach must be global, our commitment collective, and our assistance must encompass all levels of society to ensure equitable outcomes. Through this dialogue, we can jointly reinforce our commitment to health equity and building resilient health systems, alongside sustainable economic growth," he concluded.
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