Helen Clark urges Varsities to shape policy on pandemic preparedness

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Helen Clark (Screen Grab)

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Hong Kong, October 9, 2021

New Zealand is prominent in an international move by leading universities from APEC and other Pacific rim countries to prevent the next pandemic by preparing for it.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark addressed leaders of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) on September 29, 2021. 

Ms Clark was Co-Chair of the expert independent panel on preventing the next pandemic which reported its recommendations on a global plan to the WHO in Geneva in May 2021.

Briefing the APRU Executive Committee on her panel’s recommendations, Ms Clark emphasised 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.

Public policy on pandemic 

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.

Taking up her warning about the negative effects of social media and fake news on vaccination roll-outs, the Presidents debated how best to combat the ‘infodemic’ of misleading social media posts which impede 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.

Strong leadership of University network

A university network could also offer strong leadership.

“When a major trans-Pacific organisation like APRU speaks, that is of interest not only to nations around the region…but of global interest as well,” Ms Clark said.

She appealed to universities to get behind her Panel’s plan to strengthen global governance through a Global Health Threats Council of heads of government and a UN declaration and legal convention.

APRU Chair Chancellor Gene Block of UCLA, announced that the organisation had formed a Presidential Working Group to define their agenda and “advance it with urgency.”

The Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University Professor Dawn Freshwater is a member along with the Presidents of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

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