Put public at heart of pandemic response

A growing group of public health, social justice and human rights advocates have today released a Call to Action to heads of state and government to put the community at the centre of the COVID-19 response.

The Call, Reclaiming Comprehensive Public Health, sets out 10 principles to guide leaders towards more comprehensive and effective action to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and future global health challenges through stronger, more equitable public health approaches. The Call advocates highlight that this will save more lives and livelihoods.

“Early in the pandemic, the dominant response from global leaders was biomedical, top-down, command-and-control oriented, with people and civil society largely ‘locked-out’ of meaningful decision-making. We cannot afford the same narrow and limited approach,” said Professor Kent Buse (Director of Healthier Societies program, The George Institute for Global Health). “We all stand to gain if leaders ensure that all parts of society are actively engaged in shaping the pandemic response.”

On 3-4 December, heads of state and government will convene for the UN General Assembly Special Session on COVID-19 to assess the impact of the pandemic, to share insights on how to best shape the ongoing COVID-19 response, and to prepare for future global health crises. In the run-up to this Special Session, the Call is being made public to encourage leaders at local, national and global levels to practice solidarity and implement this rights-based, gender sensitive approach that puts the public at the heart of the pandemic response.

Publication of the Call is well-timed. The pandemic continues to surge in many settings; more than 58 million people have been infected and over 1.39 million people had reportedly died by 25 November 2020. Authors of the Call believe the principles it sets out are critical to mitigating ‘pandemic fatigue’ currently affecting some parts of the world, and to invigorating inclusive responses that are sustainable and protect all at risk, especially those most marginalised.

Dr Shakira Choonara (Youth Activist, South Africa) said: “A critical aspect of this Call, in a year when the African Union committed to Silencing the Guns by 2020, is to ensure we avoid at all costs coercive, militarised interventions; discriminatory measures; and actions that undermine dignity in public health responses. Youth leaders in this space have described how during the COVID-19 pandemic, young refugees who have been at the mercy of the military with demands of young women for sexual favours for their food. This is unacceptable and a clear abuse of power and authority.”

Insights gathered by the EQUINET research collective into how communities in different countries have countered COVID-19, include reports of an ‘outbreak of generosity’ and solidarity that ‘show that a compassionate society is not contradictory to, and in fact enhances, public health’. Building trust is one of the key principles outlined in the Call, along with ensuring that interventions are context-appropriate, inclusive, and built with community agency and voice.

“The Call stems from concern and frustration about failings in many government-led responses to COVID-19, but also the recognition that there are many examples of action that align with the Call, invariably by putting communities at the heart of response” said Ateeb Ahmad Parray (Public Health Professional). “For instance, in Dhaka, which is a hub of urban informal settlements in Bangladesh, community health workers from BRAC conducted rapid needs assessments to help the government ensure equitable relief distribution across marginalised and vulnerable communities. The Call aims to help leaders at all levels do better for everyone.”

Over 250 individuals and leading organisations and networks – including a range of global health initiatives, schools of public health, development institutes, international and local NGOs – have signed the Call so far.

The Call will be conveyed to the President of the UN General Assembly to inform the deliberations of the Special Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Join the call to action here

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