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02 July 2021

A roadmap to a better future? Reimaging global health systems post-pandemic

Carla De Utra Mendes

Carla De Utra Mendes reflects on the discussions from the workshop, "Cultural, social and economic aspects of managing health in a multi-polar world"

Road map News story

Global health is at a crossroads. In the second session on “Possible solutions”, we identified the need to pay careful attention to both the structures and restructuring processes of health care systems, and the need for a redistribution of systems to allow more funding and support on a global scale. Building on these ideas, the third session tackled “Cultural, social and economic aspects of managing health in a multi-polar world.”

In order to overcome major rivalries, such as those between the US and China, cooperation between East and West is needed, and concrete examples of such cooperation are valuable opportunities to learn from one another while attending to cultural specificities. This became evident in the third session where themes of difference, but also mutuality, became common points of discussion. Connectivity and, again, digitalisation, were brought as possible solutions to overcoming obstacles in individualisation and common development. The “blame game” is not productive to move things forward but the consideration of how and why warning systems have failed and what needs to be done to fix them was an important takeaway and a key message for rebuilding better mechanisms. Before and beyond the idea of trust, designing effective mechanisms while learning from existing ones, are necessary components of rethinking the basis upon which we will be functioning in a post-pandemic world.

Apart from governments, the scientific community and multilateral organisations, citizens need to be mobilised for the construction of this new roadmap for global health. The planet is facing a major existential threat, and, as we said in the conference, global health is "everybody's business". In this context, mental health, the "parallel pandemic", was brought into particular focus, although it has been a topic of discussion throughout the conference, in the holistic understanding that "there is no health without mental health", which is something that Covid-19 made abundantly clear. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is another deep-rooted systemic issue, pre and post the current pandemic.

In this sense not only is global health is at a crossroads, but the entirety of the living ecosystem is facing incredible risks. Technical systems need to be designed to tackle this issue and if trust was on the common agenda throughout, data now plays a relevant role. Data is being defined by the contested elements of its sovereignty but also by the need to be understood as a global and common good, in the same light as health. For that to happen there needs to be a sufficiently satisfactory agreement and pragmatic strategies for cooperation, themes that travelled to the fourth and final session on “Increasing East/West cooperation in medical science.”

Realistic and ideal strategies were identified both capitalising on the timeliness of the moment to act and varying between optimistic and more cautious points of view. These solutions range from more concrete and localised forms of cooperation dealing with differential modes of existence, to the overarching, national, multilateral, and supranational frameworks that need reform, rethinking, and reimagination. However, these strategies are not isolated but are actually rather complementary.

Picking up on themes that were approached during these two days of debating global health cooperation, there was a consensus that infrastructures, structures, and people in and between them need to change, trust needs to be repaired or built, and that everyone is on the same roadmap, trying to find a common way out of this crisis and into a better future.


Carla De Utra Mendes is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in China and Mental Health at Lau China Institute, King’s College London.