Global Health, Global Britain Contents


The covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that, in an interconnected world, health security cannot be separated from foreign policy. The pandemic has been a time of highs and lows in international cooperation. While countries around the world collaborated to produce vaccines at speeds never seen before, access to these vaccines remains deeply unequal. Beijing has repeatedly undermined efforts to investigate the origins of the pandemic, and it has become clear that the World Health Organization (WHO) lacks the funds, power and independence it needs in such a crisis.

The new Foreign Secretary should make it a priority to address these shortcomings. Tackling the gaping global inequality in access to vaccines is not just morally right, but is clearly in the UK’s interest. It is necessary in order to build prosperous and healthy societies, preserve the safe travel that underpins the global economy, fend off the threat of new variants, and counter autocracies that are using vaccines to gain influence.

The Government should support reforms to give the WHO more financial stability, to insulate its leadership from political pressure, and to make its operations more transparent. It should work with others to give the WHO greater powers to independently gather information on outbreaks, mirroring the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Without a full and transparent investigation into the origins of covid-19, we are at greater risk of a disastrous new outbreak.

The newly merged Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has the opportunity to make gains in global health security. We are concerned that the Government is squandering this opportunity by making ill-considered cuts to some global health programmes. These risk being a dangerous false economy that could endanger Global Britain’s reputation as a science superpower and force for good.

Published: 30 September 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement