An expert story by Paulo Gadelha
Former President, Fiocruz
Health is the best indicator for the advancements on the intertwined 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals. The agenda’s principles of equity, sustainability, peace and human rights cannot be fulfilled without equitable health systems based on primary care and fit-for-purpose Science, Technology and Innovation.
Health technologies play a central role in sustainable development
COVID-19 has revealed in a dramatic way how health plays a central role in sustainable development. The pandemic disrupted with unseen speed and on a big scale peoples’ well-being, the economy and society. This reflects social, economic and environmental determinants deeply rooted in the unsustainable prevailing model of global development.
The role of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) is undisputable. COVID-19 highlighted different challenges: strengthening evidence-based policies, fostering citizen science, sharing knowledge and R&D platforms and speeding up system analysis to face global challenges.
Health Economic-Industrial Complex (HEIC) to serve the Sustainable Development Goals
The Health Economic-Industrial Complex concept was developed in Brazil in the early 2000s, integrating a structuralist view of the political economy with a public health vision. This perspective advances, in relation to sectoral approaches in health industries and services, towards a systemic approach to the productive environment, focusing on the dimensions of innovation and universal access to health.
Health production is seen in an interdependent way, recognizing that the different industrial and service sectors have strong articulations that need to be integrated. The shift towards a universal care model that focuses on human and social needs requires innovation and a productive knowledge base. This favours promotion, prevention, and economic sustainability of health systems, which requires innovation and new productive patterns of goods and services.
The Brazilian experience is an exemplary case of association between the development of theoretical conception and its implementation in the national health policy. This led to the link between economic development policies and social policies supported by a new regulatory, legal and normative framework, among which Partnership for Product Development (PDP) involving global leaders of strategic products, national labs and private national enterprises.
It was possible to advance both conceptually in terms of a vision of health and social well-being and contribute to a new public policy paradigm. This perspective guided innovation, industrial development, and services towards the human needs and universal health systems at a much lower cost and also considering the challenges brought by the context of an ongoing fourth technological revolution.
The relevance of international collaboration on research for health technologies
Early in the pandemic process (February 2020), the World Health Organization called the international scientific society to collaborate under the “WHO Blueprint Research and Development Program”. This action established one of the most successful international collaborations in Science, Technology and Innovation.
Several institutes from the public and private sectors accepted this challenge to collaborate and produce the tools needed to combat the pandemic. Examples of such technologies include the protocols that have led to development of candidate COVID-19 vaccine, and point-of-care molecular tests for COVID-19. In the short term, these technologies can help the world overcome the current pandemic. Over the long-term they should enhance preparedness for future pandemics.
Fiocruz was part of this international collaboration which has led to extraordinary results, such as new safe and effective vaccines in a record time, new diagnostics tools and better therapeutics protocols. This demonstrates the importance of a collaborative framework to advance technologies to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
International collaboration is crucial for future health crises due to infectious diseases or other factors such as migration or climate change.
The relevance of roadmaps harnessing Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals
The motto of the United Nations Technology Facilitation Mechanism’s (TFM), “Harnessing Science, Technology and Innovation to SDGs,” was deeply challenged during the COVID-19 Pandemic, especially in the interface of Science, Society and Policies. The United Nations proposed STI roadmaps to be better organized and coordinate the areas and institutions to prepare and respond to challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initiative is expected to create synergies and promote cross-sectoral and inter-agency collaborations to develop STI roadmaps for the SDGs, using existing methodologies. The roadmaps’ objectives are to build a long-term vision of the desired future, explore innovation and technological pathways and possible scenarios, support policy design, planning and implementation processes.
A Global Pilot Program on STI for the SDGs roadmaps is underway in several countries. This is focused on demonstrating concrete added value for the beneficiary countries, as part of the national processes to design and implement roadmaps contributing to the achievement of sustainable development strategies. During the G-STIC conference, this initiative and other roadmap-related activities will be examined to disseminate.