Patrícia Álvares (Fiocruz News Agency)
When Fiocruz joined the small summit of guest countries of the Global Sustainable Technology and Innovation Community (G-STIC) in 2018, the world still did not know Sars-CoV-2. Now, while the world population takes the vaccine for COVID-19, the fifth edition of the annual conference (the fourth with the participation of the Foundation), bets on a hybrid participation model from October 24th to 26th. The agenda includes both virtual and on-site sessions looking for new technological solutions to serve the society that are environmentally friendly and aimed at 9 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) until 2030. This year, G-STIC is part of the Expo Dubai agenda, a world expo coordinated by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).
For Gadelha, "there is a before and after COVID-19 in the way of thinking technologies" (Photo: Courtesy)
In an interview with Fiocruz News Agency, the coordinator of the Fiocruz Strategy for the 2030 Agenda (EFA 2030), Paulo Gadelha, highlighted the importance of the initiative, which has the Foundation as a co-host. On the eve of boarding a flight to Dubai, he, who is also Fiocruz’s former president, shared his expectations of bringing G-STIC to Brazil in 2022. Besides Gadelha, the researcher Pablo Quesado also represents Fiocruz on the 26th with a lecture about organizing care in response to disasters, in the scope of hospital management for the future.
Although on the first G-STIC, in 2018, the Foundation and other research institutions both in Brazil and around the world were already investigating harmful pathogens to prevent potential pandemics, no one could effectively specify when, where and how, or if, a dangerous infection would appear and go out of control. In 2020, when the coronavirus surprised the entire world, Fiocruz had already implemented health as a transverse axis to sustainable development in the context of G-STIC. Gadelha explains how the world conference had a key role in the context of the pandemic.
AFN: What is G-STIC?
Paulo Gadelha: G-STIC is aimed at thinking about what we call integrated technologies for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Actually, it aims at understanding which are these technologies that are already available or close to being available and their impact, the cost-benefit ratio and their accessibility. That is a main subject, because at first it involves the targeting of technology in the field of Science, Technology, and Innovation as a whole. And it has a strong relation to the principles of the 2030 Agenda, set in the UN’s Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM). Therefore, it was at this moment after the elaboration of the base document of the 2030 Agenda itself that the key relevance was placed on the SDG.
FNA: Is it putting technology at the service of the planet?
Paulo Gadelha: It is the idea of conducting or driving a carriage and you need to take it somewhere, defending that technology and innovation do not naturally have a way that leads to responding to the most relevant need of the world population. Innovation adds value and aims at optimizing productivity, but it does not have a direction on its own. The design of technologies it self, the way in which they are sold, how they are manufactured and where they head for often lead to unfairness and harms to the environment. Be it a matter of health or environment, we need multiple tools so that the field of Science, Technology and Innovation is optimized and aimed at solving these problems.
The UN has also been having a lot of discussions on this topic, but going back to the G-STIC, that upheld itself in the niche of identifying integrated technologies that have these features and debating issues relating to the funding process, deployment and regulation, which is a process of dispersing technologies, the connections with technological incorporation and cultural, social and economic policies issues with the imbalance among countries.
The COVID-19 is a key point, but there is a before and an after that set this track of thinking of integrated technologies for all the fields of the SDG and seeing which policies and conditions are recommended to this more general field, what eases the process of placing these innovations, that have these features: creating effects of equity and that are accessible and sustainable, on the market.
FNA: How does you evaluate the impact of the COVID-19?
Paulo Gadelha: The COVID-19 had a huge impact in the global matter, and on the fields of economy, society, health and the environmental issue. The 2030 Agenda itself was extremely affected by COVID, as far as its goals were impacted in matters of education, poverty, healthy and posterity itself, which is not a subject of the agenda. Thus, there is a strong impact on the 2030 Agenda and its goals, but at the same time, the pandemic highlighted, among other factors, the importance of thinking broadly about health, to place social determinants of health associated to productions chains, to the power of development, to subjects related to crossing borders, to the zoonosis situation, to the unified health vision. Therefore, health created great importance and, at the same time, was the area that was most affected by the pandemic. And nevertheless, it developed itself to get virtuous measures, it is what Americans call "build tech better", which means building and rebuilding well. Health also became a base issue for the recovery of the economy and development models.
FNA: What lessons have we learned with the pandemic?
Paulo Gadelha: Another relevant subject to Science, Technology and Inovation was the impact, the lessons that came with COVID. They were huge in this field. First, it became clear that the countries that had an ongoing innovation system were the ones that dealt better with the situation because they responded [quickly] to these crises. We realized the need of facing it, which could be related to the adressing of all subjects related to the 2030 Agenda. The possibility of accelerating the innovation timing showed new extraordinary effects, such as the record of one year to develop safe and effective vaccines.
But there were also wicked effects, since it happened in a way that increased the inequity in access to the vaccines. It is well known that around ten countries have 70% [of its population vaccinated], while Africa is still on 2%. That is how it was shown to the scientific community the need of rethinking its form of action and the impacts COVID brought, of almost making a reset. In the words of the International Science Council, pressing the reset button and rethinking the public and shared nature of Science, Technology and Innovation.
FNA: How was the World Health Organization in this scenario?
Paulo Gadelha: A strong example of what I am talking about can be seen in the way in which WHO worked on its interface. There were a lot of critics to the WHO because of its detachment, for not having a stronger conduction in the field of innovation and not making any effort to reduce the gap between research and innovation funding and the most relevant demands of the world population. With COVID, some of these characteristics were overtaken and, in many ways, refer to an outstanding performance: it acted in what we call “working on innovation by mission”, which is having the goals to be reached clear, working with the idea of sharing genomic and information platforms, etc. It is working to act in a much broader context that involves regulatory processes, funding processes and search mechanisms that can mitigate iniquity, such as Covax.
That way, the WHO created a prime example, even though, obviously, the most general dynamics of countries, of geopolitics, of national and commercial interests. It does not get to the point of breaking a stronger tendency which is demonstrated in extreme nationalism, in customs barriers, in using the vaccine with political bias... In a way, we also had to think about his, looking and this large universe of COVID issues, the climate issue, the energy problem, the circular economy. Those are subjects that health has relating both to COVID, and to general developments related to the universal coverage and many issues, always trying to look at Science, Technology and Innovation.