Convening under the theme of “Preventing the Next Pandemic by Preparing for it,” former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark addressed the leaders of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) during their Steering Committee meeting held on 29 September. Ms. Clark made invaluable contributions to APRU leaders in formulating ideas and initiatives for combating the next pandemic.
Ms. Clark was well-qualified to present this challenge because she was co-chair of the expert independent panel on preventing the next pandemic which recently reported to the WHO in Geneva.
Her understanding of the critical issue of unequal access to health care and vaccines came from another former role as Administrator of the UN Development Program in New York which oversees all UN development activities.
Briefing the university leaders on her panel’s recommendations1, Ms. Clark emphasized the influential role that APRU’s network of 60 leading research universities from 19 countries could play in preventing the next pandemic by preparing for it.
She urged universities to help shape international public policy on pandemic preparedness, to initiate sharing of biomedical intellectual property, and to use their expertise in the social sciences to address social protection and inequality.
She stimulated a spirited debate amongst the presidents on how to combat the ‘infodemic’ of misleading social media posts which all agreed had seriously impeded public health strategies by undermining trust. Enhancing science literacy and awareness of the need to verify sources were seen as critical to an effective response.
The international community needs to understand, Ms. Clark said, that preventing the next pandemic is an issue of global governance to be led at the highest level. A university network could also offer strong leadership.
“When a major trans-Pacific organization like APRU speaks, that’s of interest not only to nations around the region…but of global interest as well,” she declared. “Please see yourselves as leaders.”
She appealed to universities to get behind her panel’s global plan to strengthen global governance through a Global Health Threats Council of heads of government and a UN declaration and legal convention.
Inspired by her address, APRU Chair, Chancellor Gene Block of UCLA, announced that “we formed a Presidential Working Group to define our agenda and advance it with urgency”. Consisting of presidents from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, the University of Auckland and the University of British Columbia, the group aims to advance the goals discussed during the meeting to prevent a future pandemic.
As a network of 60 leading universities linking the Americas, Asia and Australasia, the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) brings together thought leaders, researchers, and policy-makers to exchange ideas and collaborate on effective solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.
1COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic, https://theindependentpanel.org/