Graduate Institute launches new platform for tracking global pandemic reforms

People pass a Covid-19 information banner in Geneva, Switzerland. (Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Covid-19 caught the world off-guard, exposing flaws in the global health system’s ability to respond to outbreaks. In a bid to help address current gaps, experts at The Graduate Institute have launched a one-stop shop for all pandemic-related informational needs.

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. A year and a half later there have been over 190 million confirmed cases, including four million deaths.  Weeks of lockdowns which aimed to flatten the curve turned into months of new policies and adapting ways of living , with no end in sight.

Policymakers responsible for responding to the pandemic have been left stumped for answers, often taking a national rather than global view when it comes to tackling a disease that transcends borders. As such, the world has witnessed just how difficult it is to get Covid under control, exposing and exacerbating weaknesses in the global system.

Speaking to Dr. Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global health Centre, she explains that at the national level responses to outbreaks tend to be stronger than what we have globally in terms of “laws, rules, institutional capacity, funding and political authority”.

When it comes to funding, for example, at the national level governments can tax their citizens to fund things like relief packages and lockdowns. Internationally, however, there is a heavy reliance on “extending the begging bowl”, exposing the lack of strong arrangements needed to deal with crises like these that are by nature global.

A major factor aggravating these ills in the system is a lack of synthesis of information, with multitude sources spread across different platforms. To bridge this gap the Global Health Centre has taken on the task of creating a “one-stop” shop, a new initiative called  governing pandemics, which seeks to provide information on everything pandemics preparedness and response related.

“There are so many problems that have been exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is very difficult to keep up, so this resource provides in one place a treasure trove of information,” said Moon.

According to Moon, having this treasure trove of information will serve as an important tool for addressing the current and future pandemics by tracking important issues, providing the background information, whilst also highlighting what has been done in the past to resolve them.

Since declaring the pandemic, the world has seen the hurried creation of new hubs, policies and international panels, in addition to long overdue conversations on public goods, technology and information sharing.

“All of the data that comes out can be overwhelming and very difficult to digest all this expert input, so what we are doing is providing some tools and cheat sheets by condensing all these and making it more digestible,” Moon explained.

Right now, there is “no known single place” where this  “overload of information” is available.

Hoping to play a “small role” in addressing these challenges the global health centre initiative will provide information to both non-state actors such as civil society and smaller governments who tend to have limited resources when it comes to “knowing all” about the pandemic, which Moon says is important in tackling the power disparities that come with unequal access to information.

Read also: Michelle Bachelet: Access to vaccines is a human right and must be a global public good

What can the global pandemics initiative add? At this year’s World Health Assembly, the member states adopted the decision to discuss a new international treaty on pandemics, in a session to be held November.  Conversations around what the treaty could look like, or its functions are yet to be scrutinised.

“And one of the reasons we are launching this resource now is precisely because we're in the early stages, so it will grow and evolve and track exactly what is happening as well as what needs to happen,” Moon said.

Although decisions regarding the treaty remain “in the hands of the negotiators,” there are six broad areas including financing and leadership that provides information on “what country x for example could try to get into the treaty, or how a country could gain a better understanding of what could be included in the scope of the treaty.”

These are questions requiring significant amounts of background knowledge and expertise, and at this early stage the informational site hopes to arm negotiators with the tools to begin deepening their knowledge on the broad set of issues, whilst elevating the discussions regarding the pandemic treaty.

The world is in the midst of the worst public health crisis in more than a century. “Creating the initiative is the small role we can play to ensure everyone has access to the critical information they need to make decisions on responding to the pandemic,” Moon said.