“Science has always been at the heart of improvement”. Opening of the WHO Global Evidence-to-Policy Summit

15 November 2021

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More than 600 participants from all over the world followed the keynotes and panels on the first day of the all-virtual WHO Evidence-to-Policy (E2P) Summit, focusing on using evidence for policy change and improving health system resilience beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

As WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out in his welcome note, “science has always been at the heart of improvement”, yet the pandemic clearly exposed the significance and challenges of using evidence as catalyst for policy and societal change. “We cannot wait for another crisis to put evidence-to-policy (E2P) mechanisms in place”, the DG added, and “we need cross sectoral collaboration to build sustainable E2P mechanisms”.

To promote innovation at the evidence-policy-nexus, more networking between different sectors and disciplines is urgently needed. “Interlinking of information is crucial for political decision-making”, said Angela Merkel. In her keynote, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany called for active collaboration and networking between research and policy sectors and efficient structures and sustainable funding for actors like the World health Organization. She further stressed the importance of building trust between global stakeholders.

Only a multidisciplinary team can make successful policy recommendations, added WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan, who leads WHO’s Science Division which played an important role in translating evidence to policy recommendations during the pandemic.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, pointed out the need to implement and prioritize human rights approaches to strengthen resilience of health care systems in crisis situations. Using disaggregated data and including social determinants of health is crucial for a better understanding specific needs for evidence-informed policy, she added.

On the following high-level panel, several health ministers exchanged on how their countries were able to leverage evidence for policy change during the pandemic. In Indonesia, for example, access to real-time data helped finding the right responses to the right people, including delivering medicine to affected patients and ensuring access to vaccines, explained H.E. Budi Gunadi Sadikin, Minister of Health of Indonesia. H.E. Dr Enrique Paris Mancilla, Minister of Health of Chile, described how a step-by-step plan of his department was used to effectively prevent the spread of the virus and use risk communication for accurate public information . H.E. Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, Minister of Health of Ghana recounted the use of PCR-Test from the very beginning of the pandemic instead of relying on antigen-testing, which had initially been viewed as the best approach.

While valuing national and global evidence-to-policy approaches during the pandemic, the panelists of the following expert panel on knowledge translation beyond the pandemic agreed that there is room for improvement. Martin Mc Kee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, critically described the “academic silos which we need to end”. Oranje Rose, Director, Public Policy and communication at AFIDEP in Kenya, called for more sustained investments for driving change through evidence. According to her, many leaders in Africa hadn’t valued science appropriately prior to the pandemic, and institutional structures and capacities for evidence-informed decision-making were often missing. She also underlined that citizens need to be much more engaged for reaching societal change using evidence. Shehla Zaidi, Professor for Health Policy and Systems at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan, shared a similar perception. “We lacked adequate government structure in using evidence for policy”, she added, pointing out that a countries’ focus on clinical facts rather than on public health insights limits its crisis response capacity.

The second day of the E2P Summit lays a focus on global challenges and regional specificity by looking at different WHO regions. Two global focus events will discuss how evidence-informed decision making can be institutionalized for effective health-policy and how cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary collaboration can be improved.