The world is in uncharted territory. A global pandemic keeps governments in check and impairs the economy, while the dark clouds of climate crisis gather in the horizon. In these uncertain times, people all over the world are showing their gratitude for the healthcare workers that keep death and disease at bay. But what do they want from the world? In this open letter, over 12 million of them ask for a cleaner and healthier planet that puts people first.
An open letter from the next generation of healthcare professionals
We are in the midst of a public health emergency. This pandemic has disrupted lives, communities, and livelihoods. We now need a collective effort to bring this crisis to a halt, global solidarity to protect the most vulnerable, and a reprioritization of what we, collectively, deem important. There can be no going back to “normal”.
As future health professionals, we will soon be taking up the mantle of frontline healthcare workers – and in many cases we already have – to ensure the health and wellbeing of all members of our communities, following in the footsteps of the millions of caretakers that went before us. In return, we expect current world leaders to work with us and to leave a legacy that leads to healthy people thriving on a healthy planet, supported by resilient health systems; where no one is left behind.
For us to be able to fulfil our roles, we need world leaders to take bold action towards these 4 objectives:
1. A permanent shift to people-centered politics.
Public health is a political choice, and the choices we make today will shape our society, health, economy, and climate for decades to come.
Crises like these force us to face the shortcomings of our systems and policies. They also offer us a regained sense of shared humanity, in which we realize what matters most: the health and safety of our loved ones, and by extension the health and safety of our community, country, and fellow global citizens.
We urge leaders to move from growth to wellbeing as a measure of long-term success, with thriving communities as their end goal.
2. An ambitious response to the current health crisis, in preparation for future ones
We need to save lives now while also improving the way we respond to health crises as a whole.
This means taking care of a health system’s most valuable asset: its workers. As our first line of defense against the pandemic and other health crises, their safety and wellbeing must be put first by ensuring the availability of essential protective measures, equipment, medicines, training, guidance and support.
This also means strengthening public health and primary health care systems, in all countries, but especially in low- and middle-income countries. This is achieved through sustained support in health governance, human resources, medicines and devices, service delivery, health information systems, and health financing.
We need to invest in surveillance and early-warning systems for diseases and other health threats, and we need to build a global and flexible vaccination chain. Health systems need to be adapted and strengthened to be shock-proof in the face of climate change and other health security threats.
Lastly, to avoid the emergence of new diseases and protect the natural ecosystems we depend on, we need a ban on activities that increase the risk of emerging diseases, including on deforestation and wildlife trafficking.
The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board estimates global pandemic preparedness would cost between 1 and 2 US dollar per person per year, and the World Health Organisation determined an additional 35 billion US dollars will be required to strengthen primary healthcare systems. This is a bargain to avoid recurring economic hardship for millions, and the death of thousands. The cost of upgrading our defenses against health security threats such as climate change, antimicrobial resistance, and the emergence of diseases is only a fraction of the cost of inaction.
3. Delivering on Universal Health Coverage
When health disasters hit – and in a business-as-usual scenario they will do so increasingly – global inequality is sustained and reinforced, and paid for with the lives of the poor and marginalized.
Having access to the health services you need without suffering undue financial hardship is currently still a distant dream for half of the world’s population. Affordable healthcare is an essential step in undoing the systemic inequalities we are confronted with today. It is a no-regrets investment that honors everyone’s human right to health.
Creating healthy environments for healthier populations and Universal Health Coverage are two of the most effective ways in which we can reduce the long-term health impacts from – and increase our resilience and adaptive capacity to – current and future health crises.
4. Sustainable relief and recovery to achieve planetary health
The financial and social support needed to ensure immediate relief and long-term recovery should be centered around equity, sustainable development and resilience as well as community- and planetary health.
We ask governments to put universal access to renewable energy at the heart of stimulus plans, including by redirecting the billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies to renewable sources, by putting in place social and environmental safeguards for all future economic activities and policies, and by upholding the 5 principles of a just recovery to ensure a transition to a more resilient, zero-carbon, just and healthier future.
This open letter was signed by individuals and organisations representing over 12 million young nurses, midwives, physicians, surgeons, physiotherapists, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, pharmacists, public health practitioners, community health workers, caretakers, health students and youth from over 130 countries and territories. A full list of signatories can be seen here.