G20 Health Ministers' Meet Ends Without Joint Statement Due to Objections From Russia, China

At the end of the meeting, an outcome document and a chair summary was issued which highlighted several priorities of G20 members to improve healthcare around the world.

New Delhi: The two-day G20 meeting of health ministers ended on August 19 without a joint statement being issued – just like G20 gatherings of other ministers that took place after India took over the presidency of the group. The bone of contention was, again, the Russia-Ukraine war. Instead, a chair summary and an outcome document was issued at the end of the meeting.

Russia and China objected to para 22 of the document which condemned the war. A footnote in the outcome document says, “Russia rejected the inclusion of geopolitical paragraph 22 on the basis that it does not conform to the G20 mandate and recognizes the status of the paragraph as Chair’s Summary.”

China’s observation has been recorded thus: “China stated that G20 is not the right platform to address security issues and opposed the inclusion of the geopolitical- related content.”

The outcome document said there were “other views” and “different assessments”  regarding the war situation and the sanctions – and hence there could not be a consensus on the issue.

“Recognizing that the G20 is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy,” it said.

Except for this issue, the rest of the document was unanimously agreed upon by all the G20 members. They reiterated that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has a central role in the global health architecture.

The members also acknowledged that “safe, effective and quality-assured” medicines, vaccines and diagnostics must be equitably available to all countries.

On another note, the members concurred on the need for low and middle income countries (LMICs) and other developing countries to become a part of a global consultative mechanism that takes calls on access to medicines, diagnostics and vaccines, should another pandemic strike. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the world witnessed scenarios where some developed and rich countries had stockpiled these resources more than their respective needs, while it took extraordinarily long for these measures to reach countries in the African region and many other developing nations.

While talking about facilitating the availability of universal healthcare coverage to its citizens, and the attainment of sustainable development goals related to this issue, what was significant was acknowledging the gravity of Long Covid. This is an issue that has received less-than-adequate attention across many nations, including India, as we have seen in the post-pandemic world.

“We also recognize the need for improving our understanding of Long-COVID, its consequences on individual, social and economic levels as well as on post-COVID-related health services, and note the importance of surveillance and research into Long-COVID,” the document said.

The members also expressed their concerns over rising incidents of zoonotic spillovers. While the debate on the origins of Sars-Cov-2, the virus causing Covid-19, remains wide open, zoonotic spillovers — events in which virus jumps from animal to human beings – have resulted in major global outbreaks in the past.

The members admitted the need for identifying the “new and existing drivers” for such events by strengthening infectious disease surveillance and adopting what is known as the ‘One Health‘ approach. Incidentally, the outcome document didn’t say anything on the challenges to trace the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic – an issue that has generated many geopolitical and scientific theories, but is nowhere close to reaching a conclusion.

Accepting the growing threat of climate change and its multiplying effects on healthcare institutions through “emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases and by increasing the severity and frequency of natural disasters”, the members agreed to building low-carbon sustainable health systems.

In order to deal with antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the members consented to a series of measures, including strengthening R&D, water-sanitation-hygiene services, augmenting AMR surveillance, developing new antimicrobials (medicines for treating infectious diseases) through special international initiatives, and allocation of funds to AMR National Action Plans from various domestic mechanisms and global financial institutions.

On traditional and complementary medicines, the outcome document said the members acknowledged their importance, provided they are “rigorously and scientifically validated to be safe and effective” as per WHO’s Traditional Medicine Strategy.

The G20 members acknowledged the importance of collaboration between governments, civil society organisations, academia, regulators, research institutions, philanthropists, multilateral banks and the private sector to boost R&D efforts. Continuing with the Saudi Arabian G20 presidency priority on digital health and Indonesia’s G20 presidency initiative on digital health, the members committed to support digital health initiatives of the WHO.