“We must be better prepared for future pandemics”

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The Federal Chancellor at the World Health Summit 2022 “We must be better prepared for future pandemics”

At the opening of the World Health Summit, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz stressed the importance of networking and cooperation across national borders, as well as between the academic sector, politics and society. 

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The picture shows Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the World Health Summit.

Learning the right lessons from the coronavirus pandemic: the international community had to be better prepared for future pandemics, had to detect risks sooner and exchange information more closely, stressed Olaf Scholz at the World Health Summit.

Photo: Federal Government/Köhler

Learning from the past: in his opening speech at the “World Health Summit 2022” in Berlin, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz emphasised the role of international and inter-disciplinary networking and cooperation at the highest scientific level, especially in view of the coronavirus pandemic. “If we want to identify pandemics like this sooner in future – or even better: to prevent them – we must cooperate far more closely across various disciplines. We also need a much better understanding of the interdependencies of human, animal and environmental health,” the Federal Chancellor said.

Improving readiness

He added that it was all the more important “to learn the right lessons from the past and the COVID-19 pandemic”. The international community had to be better prepared for future pandemics, had to detect risks more quickly, exchange information more closely, develop countermeasures jointly and to ensure access for everyone, Olaf Scholz stressed.

The World Health Summit (WHS) is the globally leading international conference on global health. More than 2000 internationally renowned representatives from the areas of academia, business, politics and civil society meet in Berlin once a year to discuss the most pressing tasks of global healthcare.

Joint summit to be held every three years

The conference that is held from 16 to 18 October, is organised jointly with the World Health Organization (WHO) for the first time this year. Planning provides for a joint summit to be held every three years in the future.

Key issues of this year’s WHS include:

  • Finding innovative solutions for improving global health
  • Intensifying exchange
  • Establishing global health as a key political issue
  • Advancing the global health debate in the sense of the UN goals for sustainable global development

Germany is a centre of international cutting-edge research

The Federal Chancellor pointed out that the fact that this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine went to the Swedish biologist and medical scientist Svante Pääbo, showed that Germany was not only a centre of basic research but also of international cutting-edge research. Pääbo is the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and has been teaching and doing research work in Germany since the 1990s. Scholz said that this spoke in favour of Germany as a research location: “I was particularly happy about this choice.”

Professor Christian Drosten, the Director of the Institute of Virology of the Charité in Berlin, attained another result in the context of his years of research on corona viruses. Only a few weeks after the coronavirus had occurred in Wuhan, Drosten developed the first test for detecting the virus. This was at a time when most citizens were not yet aware of these types of viruses.

And Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci developed an effective vaccine against COVID-19 in a very short time, based on their many years of research in the area of mRNA technology. “This allowed for countless human lives to be saved during the coronavirus pandemic,” Scholz emphasised, adding that he hoped that this was only the beginning: “Just imagine the potential for using mRNA technology in cancer therapy.”

International networking and cooperation

These examples show that international networking and cooperation is key, in particular with regard to international healthcare policy. Germany chose health as one of the key issues to be addressed during its G7 Presidency:

  • Close to 1.2 billion vaccine doses have meanwhile been passed on by the G7 partners – more than originally promised
  • 83 percent of the cost of the ACT accelerator that allows for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to be made globally available more quickly, is covered by the G7 Germany alone agreed to contribute 1.3 billion euros in 2022
  • Germany supports countries in Africa and the Middle East with up to 850 million euros, to ensure that the donated vaccines are actually used
  • Together with the EU, the African Union and African countries such as Senegal and Rwanda, Germany supports the development of vaccine production in Africa – now in view of COVID-19, and in future also for other illnesses such as malaria or Ebola
  • Germany contributes 1.3 billion euros to the global fund for fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria – this corresponds to an increase of 30 percent since the last time the fund was topped up
  • At the conference of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on 25 October, Germany is going to provide 35 million euros this year
  • The “Pact for Pandemic Readiness” is an instrument for detecting pandemic situations earlier on, for example by means of closer cooperation in genome sequencing or monitoring of waste water systems
  • The G7 states established a “Financial Intermediary Fund” in September to provide financial security for the preparation for and response to pandemics. As one of by now 18 donors from around the world, Germany has provided close to 70 million euros for this fund to date

The Federal Chancellor explained that to improve readiness and to be able to react jointly to health crises more effectively, Germany was also involved in negotiations for an international pandemic treaty and in drawing up amendments of the International Health Regulations.

Relying on scientific advice

“Policy-makers must rely more than ever on advice from the academic sector,” Scholz said, adding that this was owing to the fact that the world was becoming ever more complex, increasingly interlinked and characterised by scientific innovation and technological progress. This was why he had appointed an independent council of coronavirus experts right at the start of his term as Federal Chancellor, he explained. 

The fact that Germany weathered the pandemic better than many other countries by continuously reviewing and adjusting the direction of its science-based approach had to be regarded as a success, Federal Chancellor Scholz said, adding that this was why transparency was so important. Scholz mentioned the publications and advice of the coronavirus experts as examples and continued by saying that “a clear stance has to be taken against those who deliberately call scientific progress into question, who intentionally spread disinformation and who are in some cases even discrediting and threatening researchers”. Scientific freedom was a precious asset, he stressed.

Promoting scientific curiosity

This was why the Federal Government would be making every effort also in the future to promote independent research driven by scientific curiosity, the Federal Chancellor said. On the one hand this was enshrined in the “Pact for Research and Innovation”, and on the other hand, resources for research and development would be increased further, he explained: to 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product by 2025.