Javier Abi-Saab (Fiocruz News Agency)
If the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect worldwide, recovery provides an opportunity for long-overdue changes to finally happen. It is not enough to think of returning to normality as it was before, because this would not be good for anyone, it is necessary to correct the course and direct science, technology, and innovation towards meeting social, environmental, and health objectives. It was on this line of reflection that the various presentations converged in the debate held on Tuesday (May 18), organized by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and the Global Conferences on Sustainable Technology and Innovation (G-STIC), entitled: Lessons learned by the health sector using science, technology, and innovation to implement Agenda 2030 and the SDGs related to Health.
Participating in the event were Paulo Gadelha, coordinator of the Fiocruz Strategy for the 2030 Agenda (EFA 2030); Kris Ebi, from the University of Washington; Steven Hoffman, from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Institute of Population and Public Health (CIHR-IPPH); Inês Hassan, from the International Scientific Council (ISC); Shantanu Mukherjee, of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA); Angel Gonzalez Sanz and Clovis Freire, of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); Flavia Elias, of Fiocruz; and Dietrich Vanderweken, of G-STIC.
The event was kicked off by Paulo Gadelha, who explained the idea of bringing a wide range of perspectives on lessons learned, considering that the pandemic effects also undermined the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Gadelha recognized the health importance in the construction of an economic and social recovery, remembering that science and technology evolution is far from being equal among countries.
Priorities and political will
Shantanu Mukherjee stressed the threat of more frequent pandemics in a more interconnected world and highlighted the climate change effect on the possibility of altering the diseases geographical distribution such as malaria, dengue fever, and others. Mukherjee pointed out five priorities for science, technology, and innovation: strengthening health systems to enable universal access; increasing delivery capacity; revisiting incentive systems to target health; strengthening international research cooperation; and recognizing the health multidisciplinary and transversality in society. For Mukherjee, while all these aspects depend on a political will, they also require a scientific approach.
In her presentation, Kris Ebi, a researcher at the University of Washington, said that science, technology, and innovation are at the heart of human progress and must be directed toward wellness and sustainability. "We need a transition in development to improve health and well-being while maintaining the Earth's resilience," she said. Ebi acknowledged that the current crisis has shown inequities and needs in health systems, but also highlighted opportunities and learnings such as those related to e-health and telemedicine. For her, with these new tools, we can make healthcare systems more efficient and affordable. Finally, Ebi recalled the importance of working towards a circular economy and greener, healthier cities.
“Covidization” of research
In her intervention, Inês Hassan presented the work done by the International Science Council, which, from a multidisciplinary approach, seeks to stimulate a free science development. According to Hassan, science has played a critical role in this pandemic and will also play a crucial role in post-pandemic recovery. Some of the challenges facing international science have been financial difficulty, vaccine nationalism, and the "covidization" of research. Nevertheless, Hassan sees enormous opportunities, a growth of trust in the scientific community, and imagines the future of science as an open and public project.
Steven Hoffman presented the group with a research map for COVID-19 recovery which is based on a multidisciplinary approach to the problems brought about by the disease. "The pandemic is of a virus, but also of socioeconomic problems and inequalities. For this reason, we must implement a robust socio-economic response”, he said. The map identifies priority areas for covid-19 recovery and makes room for changes that we have known were needed for some time. "We have a choice to make. We can choose to continue as before, or we can seek transformational changes. If we choose the second option, we will need research, science, and innovation. Hoffman said that the map still helps answer how we can use the COVID-19 crisis to foster equity, resilience, and sustainability.
In her presentation, Flávia Elias set the goal of reaching a point where health systems direct and decide on investments in science, technology, and innovation. For this, it is necessary to work on innovative processes that guarantee the participation of diverse actors in the quest to serve the community. Elias highlighted solidarity as the guiding principle of a science that seeks to support social problems. One of the suggestions is to incorporate and develop the concept of value in scientific health research. Beyond the clinical questions of effectiveness and efficiency, consider and measure the social and environmental value of the technologies and incorporate other agents' involved views. "It is not enough to have innovation, we need to have equitable implementation processes," he said.
To finish the panelists' group, Clovis Freire pointed out that the health sector is much more connected to other sectors of the economy than people usually realize. Innovation is a driver of development, and if health is our greatest wealth, innovation in health must be worked on carefully. In this regard, he pointed to the need for a transition from several areas of sustainable development toward a diversified economy to increase resilience. Finally, Freire emphasized the need to ensure that science and technology in health do not increase the inequalities that already exist. "Above all, we must mentalize that we live in a small world, interconnected in a complex way, this is not the last pandemic that humanity will face. We have to move to a new path of transformation," he reinforced.