1.The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in collaboration with other sector organizations, recently ran a campaign called “Build a Bigger Bubble” to promote support for vaccine equity and pandemic preparedness. What were the outcomes?
This was the second phase of a campaign that we started last year to make this our ‘Decade of Health’. Our vision is of a future where the UK – and the world – is healthier, stronger, and safer because countries are coming together to tackle the most important health challenges, like pandemics and preventable diseases. We wanted to inspire and engage the British public by showing our progress improving health for people throughout the world through science, innovation and collaboration – and what more we can achieve if the UK continues to show leadership in these areas. We aimed to reach audiences who do not normally engage with news about global health or development. We saw a real appetite for more information from these audiences, with nearly 3 million individuals over a three week period watching our videos and exploring online content from partners like THET on what the UK is currently doing in support of global health. Our polling showed that those who recalled the campaign were significantly more likely than the public at large to see it as critical that people in low-income countries have equal access to vaccines, and also more optimistic that this can be achieved. We’re sharing the findings with our partners in the campaign in the hope that there will be valuable insights for future campaigns and advocacy.
2. COVID-19 has shown us that no one is safe unless everyone is safe. What more needs to be done to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments?
I see the three top issues as equity, funding, and supply. First we need governments to do more than pay lip-service to equity, and put the most vulnerable communities throughout the world at the front of the queue, not the back, for distribution of vaccines and other life-saving interventions. And then we need high-income countries to step up and meet the costs of these interventions, whether that’s through directly funding vaccines for low-income countries through the COVAX facility, or by sharing their excess doses as soon as possible, which we know can be done without jeopardizing their domestic vaccination efforts. And finally we need to do all we can to accelerate vaccine supply, working with governments, researchers and the private sector to scale up production, including how we facilitate technology transfer to make the best use of available manufacturing capabilities. This would in any circumstances be the right thing to do, but the risks from new variants of COVID-19 has amply demonstrated that this is an investment in our own interest too.
3. What role is the UK playing to make the Decade of Health a reality?
The UK has played an outsized role in global health for many years, whether that’s through the partnerships of NHS staff with counterparts throughout the world, the cutting-edge research going on in UK universities to tackle diseases that disproportionately affect the world’s poorest, or the support of the UK government for health systems and for collective efforts like the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, and the campaign to eradicate polio. Much of that continues, but we’re concerned that a lot is also now at risk from the UK’s cuts to foreign aid, which will have a devastating impact on many of the partnerships the UK has built over many years. There are areas where the UK has been a global leader, like maternal and infant nutrition, or sexual and reproductive health, where the loss of funding will have a huge impact and where it is hard to see how others can step up. I hope that as we emerge from COVID-19, that the government will recognise the value of a long-term approach to strengthening health systems that will make the most of the expertise and enthusiasm within the whole range of UK organisations with an interest in global health.
4. This month marks the launch of THET’s campaign to mobilise NHS workers in support of ODA. What do you hope will be the main outcome of this campaign, and why are NHS health professionals so well placed to advocate for the benefits of investing in global health?
What NHS workers bring is an authentic account of how the health of others around the world matters to us all, and a very practical sense of what benefits we can gain from the kinds of partnerships that THET has promoted over many years. We see a lot in the media and in parts of the political debate that suggests caring about health outcomes for the world’s poorest is a concern only for a narrow, metropolitan elite. I hope that listening to NHS workers will show this is far from the case, and that politicians and other decision-makers will listen to what NHS workers have to say about the benefits of investing in global health. There will be a real competition of priorities within the new smaller UK aid budget, and I hope that this campaign will help make the case that global health needs to be top of the list, both in funding and in global policy leadership.
5. Finally, what does HEAL mean to you?
Our foundation’s guiding principle is that ‘every life has equal value’ and HEAL to me embodies that, bringing the same belief in equity to collective efforts to strengthen health systems.