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Pandemic preparedness and vaccine equity are key to global health security

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Photo: The Elders/Jeff Moore

During a pandemic, it's in every country's interest to cooperate. Gro Harlem Brundtland reflects on the COVID-19 crisis and how we can mitigate the impact of the current pandemic as well as prevent future health emergencies.

Dear friends,    

As the northern hemisphere enters spring, countries continue to progress on their vaccine plans, giving hope for a reawakening of society from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this progress has been inconsistent, which makes the sense of hope more precarious.    

Countries including the UK, US and Israel have notably been at the forefront of vaccinating their populations. Meanwhile, many poorer nations have yet to vaccinate a single person.    

This is a dangerous precedent to set. A key lesson we must learn from COVID-19 – a pandemic that has already cost too many lives, wreaked economic havoc, exacerbated inequalities and stoked nationalist sentiments – is that in an inherently interdependent world, it is in every country’s interest to cooperate.    

The cost of a pandemic dwarfs the costs of preparedness. As The Elders said in our report ‘Building Back Better for Universal Health’, a post-pandemic recovery must be focused on three key pillars: preparing public health systems for future pandemics; prioritising Universal Health Coverage; and promoting healthier societies via holistic policies.    

I recently discussed these issues on the Finding Humanity podcast co-hosted by my fellow Elder Mary Robinson. We talked about how this pandemic was predictable, how pandemics will undoubtedly happen again, how we can prevent future health emergencies and mitigate their impact, and why vaccine equity is crucial.    

Recently, Graça Machel, Deputy Chair of The Elders, participated in a virtual rally organised by the People’s Vaccine Alliance. She emphasised how the lottery of one’s birthplace should not determine one’s right to life-saving vaccines.    

March also saw a day that is always important in the global calendar: International Women’s Day. To mark the occasion, Mary Robinson and Amani Aruri, a youth activist from Palestine, came together to talk about advancing women’s rights and the importance of intergenerational dialogue.

We were tragically reminded of the perilous situation for many women in learning about the recent murder of Sarah Everard in London. The event sparked a global outcry for women’s rights to safety and justice, and also reminded us of the importance of standing up for our freedoms.    

Mary Robinson warned in an op-ed in IPS earlier this month that some regimes have exploited the public health crisis as an excuse to step up patterns of political oppression, with women in the firing line.  

These events are timely reminders of just how long we still have to go to achieve gender equality and safety for women and girls everywhere. All eyes must now turn to the Generation Equality Forum as these issues are given a global platform.  

The COVID-19 crisis has also brought into sharp focus the delicate relationship between people and nature.    

To mark Earth Day on 22 April, The Elders will promote intergenerational dialogue with the launch of our second youth climate blog series featuring vital voices from young women and men from all over the world. The climate crisis makes it abundantly clear that every generation must act responsibly to take care of our planet, both for the sake of future generations and for the people living through the climate emergency today.    

Stay safe,   


Adapted from The Elders' monthly newsletter. Sign up for regular updates here.

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