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G20 health working group meets in Goa: Minister urges G20 delegates to concentrate on global health infrastructure.

Monday marked the start of the second meeting of the health working group for the G20 in Goa, where discussions will continue on the three priorities set by the Indian presidency: addressing future health emergencies, constructing a manufacturing network for vaccines, medicines, and diagnostics, and leveraging digital solutions to provide universal health coverage.

Before the meeting, the delegates were provided with three ‘non-papers’ based on discussions conducted at the January meeting in Thiruvananthapuram.

Dr. Bharati Pravin Pawar, Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, delivered the keynote address and emphasised the need for collaborative surveillance, community protection, secure and scalable care, access to medical countermeasures, and emergency coordination.

She implored the delegates to utilise the platform to advance a well-defined and exhaustive global health architecture. “We must collaborate to create a happier and healthier world,” she said.

Rajesh Bhushan, secretary of health, stated that there is a need to invest “substantially more” in health systems, particularly in prevention, which is typically underfunded. “We must focus on reducing the causes of pandemic risk in order to prevent their emergence,” he said. Bhushan applauded the concentration of the G20 pandemic fund’s first call for proposals, which was issued last year, on “surveillance, laboratory systems, and strengthening the public health workforce.”

Tourism minister Shripad Naik, who was also present at the opening session, stated that India is one of the foremost destinations for medical value tourism, with more than 1.4 million people visiting the country for treatment in 2013. He added that India rated tenth on the most recent medical tourism index. “India offers a holistic approach with yoga, Ayurveda, and other traditional practises,” stated the minister.

“India’s G20 presidency has collaborated with WHO and circulated adequately in advance three non-papers across all health priorities to supplement our on-going discussions for an effective convergence and consensus among G20 countries and relevant stakeholders,” said Lav Agarwal, coordinator for the health-track of G20 and additional secretary for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, at the opening session. At the second meeting, a preliminary outcome document will also be discussed.

The first day of the convention featured three technical sessions. The first session centred on health emergency prevention, preparedness, and response, with participants discussing collaborative surveillance systems supported by sophisticated laboratory networks and pertinent infrastructure. The discussion also centred on incorporating antimicrobial resistance into any health emergency governance system and its complementarity with ongoing efforts at various government levels. Former president and eminent professor of the Public Health Foundation of India K Srinath Reddy, assistant director general for antimicrobial resistance at WHO, Dr Hanan H Balkhy, and executive director of the WHO health emergencies programme Dr Michael Ryan were the featured speakers at the session.

The second session centred on improving collaborations at various levels in order to increase the accessibility and availability of safe, effective, and high-quality medical countermeasures. Methods such as public-private partnerships and international collaborations through a network-of-networks platform dominated the discussions.

In the hour-long session that followed the third session, G20 member states discussed the draught outcome document in exclusive session. It was emphasised that any agreement must be based on evidence-based, inclusive, fair, equitable, transparent, and need-based measures.

India is likely to raise the issue of intellectual property rights during a public health emergency, as closing the gap in unequal access and establishing a global manufacturing network for medical countermeasures (vaccines, medications, and diagnostics) are priorities for the health working group. The discussion will presumably centre on pharmaceutical companies’ voluntary licencing and technology transfer, according to officials with knowledge of the matter.

During the pandemic, India and South Africa petitioned the World Trade Organisation to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights so that the global south could also have access to vaccines. India was able to give two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to over 90 percent of its population over the age of 12 and share its vaccines with other nations due to its large-scale vaccine manufacturers.

During the meeting, NITI Aayog (Health) member Dr. VK Paul cast light on India’s digital healthcare landscape and pharmaceutical industry. He urged participants to take benefit of the learning and also to share best practises with other G20 nations. He suggested capitalising on the momentum and opportunities generated by Covid-19 initiatives.

For digital health, India is likely to propose a digital toolkit under an intra-government agency, such as the World Health Organisation, that other countries can access based on their needs. Why should countries invest in establishing multiple digital health platforms when these can be made available in the toolbox and modified by each country according to their needs? India will provide access to its teleconsultation platform eSanjeevani, just as it did with the vaccine management system CoWIN.

Parallel to the G20 meetings, India is also celebrating the ‘International Year of Millets’, with ‘SreeAnna’ assuming centre stage at the welcome dinner for the delegates. According to Bhushan, a dinner with a “carnival theme” is scheduled for the delegates at Fort Aguada.

On Tuesday morning, the delegates will participate in a yoga session, as they did at the previous meeting. “Goa is known as a tourist’s paradise, and the confluence of Indo-Portuguese culture with its spectacular scenic beauty and tranquilly would be a soul-rejuvenating experience for all of you,” said Shripad Naik, adding that the delegates must also partake in traditional ayurvedic therapies.

In addition to the two-day G20 discussions, a digital health side event has been scheduled for April 18 and 19. Bhushan stated that the event will feature “detailed discussions” on how digital health can accelerate universal health coverage through the development of a digital health ecosystem, innovations in healthcare, a technology-driven continuum of care, and the creation of digital public goods. At both the main and secondary events, an exhibition has also been organised.

India will host four G20 meetings on Monday, including the Meeting of Agricultural Chief Scientists (MACS) in Varanasi, the 2nd Health Working Group in Goa, the 2nd Digital Economy Working Group in Hyderabad, and the Space Economy Leaders’ Precursor Meeting in Shillong. This day marks a significant milestone, as India will have hosted 100 G20 meetings by the end of the day.

Participation in person during India’s G20 presidency ranks among the highest ever. Over 12,300 delegates from 110 nationalities, including G20 members, 9 invitee nations, and international organisations, have participated in G20-related meetings to date. India will host over 200 G20-related sessions for foreign delegates in 60 cities across the country, the largest geographic reach of any G20 Presidency.

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