The COVID-19 pandemic has been a clarifying moment in so many ways. Not only has it unveiled many of the challenges within the global health system, but it also exacerbated longstanding inequities across our communities that need to be addressed. Along the way, the pandemic has reaffirmed the need for a collaborative, global healthcare framework to ensure equity and security against future health emergencies.

While the challenges are significant, the current trends underscored by the pandemic represent an opportunity to chart a new course for the future of health policy. We recently sat down with BCIU Senior Manager of Strategic Development, Brian Dershowitz, to hear his thoughts on the key trends shaping the future of global health policy. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how public health has a direct tie to economic health and that overcoming a pandemic requires partnerships between the public and private sectors,” Dershowitz says. “As we adjust to the new normal, we should see a continued commitment to private sector innovation to address global health problems and a rapid public sector adaptation of these innovations as we all work toward a shared goal of a healthy and safe global population.”

Here is Dershowitz’s take on three important global health trends to watch in 2021:

Partnerships to build a new global health system

Public-private partnerships not only play a key role in the world’s ability to effectively respond to a global health emergency like a pandemic, but also could be the start of a new platform on which global healthcare infrastructure can grow. “Government-to-government, public and private sector, and inter-industry collaboration enable advancement in the healthcare space,” says Dershowitz. “These collaborations accelerate the development of new tools and technologies while increasing the speed and agility of our responses.”

But advancing research and product development, as well as the production and distribution of biopharmaceuticals like vaccines, requires both policy and commercial ecosystems that are supportive of innovation. Partnerships with the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and COVAX Facility — whether as manufacturers or distributors of PPE, treatments, or vaccines, or as a financial advisor — have embraced the importance of innovation and adaptation. We are proud to have members like UPS, Johnson & Johnson, Citi, and Pfizer, to name just a few, that have taken this challenge to heart. “We’ve seen distribution and manufacturing companies turn on a dime to help address issues of PPE production and vaccine distribution” says Dershowitz. “It’s highly encouraging to see governments maintain flexibility and adjust policies to address issues in real time. We hope that this momentum can be maintained as we come out of the pandemic and use these innovations and lessons learned in preparation for the next one.”

Pandemic-proof our systems with resilient supply chains

At the start of COVID-19, healthcare supply chains, among those of other industries, experienced unprecedented strain. The impact on the supply chain was extensive, making it clear that the ability of the industrial life sciences sector to develop diagnostic tests and vaccines is ultimately reliant on the industry’s ability to manufacture and distribute those materials. Easing the burden of a global health emergency will require redefined models that enable scalable, agile production and building a stockpile of resources like PPE to support stronger supply chains.

Looking to the future, these models need to be fully operational in advance of emergent needs. “As we’ve seen with COVID-19, a secure and stable supply chain is perhaps the most important aspect in overcoming the pandemic,” says Dershowitz. “This includes not only having the ability to produce and distribute materials such as PPE, but ensuring the health and safety of workers. Through this unprecedented time, supply chains across many sectors, including the life sciences, agriculture, and manufacturing, are vital to ensuring that global populations remain healthy during the pandemic and have the resources to ensure that the vaccines and care can now be distributed globally.”

The future of healthcare is digital

At the center of global collaboration and robust supply chains is technology. Digital technologies speed up research, innovation, and clinical trials; build supply chain transparency; and facilitate safer healthcare interactions, like telehealth. In addition, patient attitudes toward healthcare are changing, as evident by providers embracing previously underutilized care paths like telemedicine during COVID-19. However, it is unlikely these technologies will reach their full potential without modernizing existing policy and infrastructure. The pandemic has accelerated the adaptation of telehealth and telemedicine while highlighting the need and importance of connectivity, particularly for those in the last mile. Dershowitz said, “We must ensure that there is policy to address connectivity concerns, and the private sector must continue to partner together to ensure that disparate systems have the ability to interoperate in order to provide the best patient care possible. Included in this are not only stable networks, but also secure networks that protect the vital electronic health records and other data.”

In order to ensure fair and equitable access to digital health, both patients and providers will need better access to secure and stable connectivity, especially those in rural areas. It’s also important that as the digital healthcare space grows, cybersecurity infrastructure and policy are updated in tandem.

As we look toward an increasingly uncertain future, the specter of tomorrow’s global health emergencies has put a spotlight on the intersection between public health, globalization, and security. “An effective, responsive healthcare system of the future will rely on collaboration, resilient supply chains, and innovative, new digital technologies to address whatever tomorrow may bring,” says Dershowitz.

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