Strengthening health and agri-food systems must go hand-in-hand

Health and agri-food systems must be strengthened and improved to counter the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and to avoid a global food crisis, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, said today.

"Beyond jeopardizing human health, the pandemic is also disrupting our agri-food systems that are the core to our health and life," the FAO Director-General told world leaders at the virtual Global Health Summit of the G20.  "We need to take immediate action, to avoid a global food crisis with long-term impacts." 

The Summit was co-hosted by the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, and Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, as Italy holds the current chair of the G20. In addition, the leaders of the G20 countries, heads of international and regional organizations, private enterprise and global health bodies were invited to share lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Summit endorsed the ‘Rome Declaration' calling for urgent action to scale up equitable vaccine distribution and access for the world's poorest and most vulnerable.

"The pandemic will only be over once everyone is safe," stressed the FAO Director-General.  "Sharing lessons learned, strengthening multilateral cooperation and developing joint actions, such as adopting the Rome Declaration, will pave the way to this common goal."

Qu said that efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been critically compromised by the pandemic, noting that about 150 million people are currently projected to fall into extreme poverty and food insecurity.   

He highlighted FAO's action through its flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative, which focuses on vulnerable countries (SIDS, LDCs and LLDCs), and drew attention to the organization's  COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, which FAO established to address the pandemic's socio-economic impacts.

Italy's Draghi said the pandemic showed no sign of abating and noted that only 0.3 percent of the world's 1.5 billion vaccine doses had been administered in low-income countries. 

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, expressed concern about a "two-speed response" to the pandemic, noting the inequality of vaccine distribution and recent COVID-19 surges in India, South America and other regions. 

"Vaccinating quickly and thoroughly around the world, together with continued public health measures, are the only way to end the pandemic and prevent more dangerous variants from gaining a foothold," Guterres said. 

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also noted the inequities of the current vaccine rollout and warned the Summit that COVID-19 would not be the last pandemic. He said that bold leadership and commitments are needed to ensure a safer future for everyone on the planet.

One Health Approach

Underscoring the importance of collaboration, FAO's Director-General pointed to the newly created One Health High-Level Expert Panel, launched earlier in the week. "The Tripartite of FAO, WHO and OIE together with UNEP, IAEA, World Bank Group and others, join the G20 and other Members in the different initiatives to enhance the One Health approach. Global promotion through the Global Action Plan on One Health and its High-Level Expert Panel are important steps," he said.

The One Health Approach recognizes the links between the health of people, animals, and the environment and highlights the need for specialists in multiple sectors to address any health threats and prevent disruption to agri-food systems.

"Global health security and food security must be for all - with no-one left behind," the Director-General said.

The Rome Declaration highlighted the importance of investing in early warning information, surveillance and trigger systems, in line with the One Health Approach, as well as in research and innovation. It also underlined the urgent need to scale up efforts, supporting synergies between the public and private sectors, to ensure timely, global and equitable access to safe and affordable COVID-19 vaccines and other tools.

The speech of the FAO Director-General at the Summit can be accessed here. 

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