Science and policy at the centre of lively discussions during the Geneva Health Forum

For this year’s Geneva Health Forum, two interactive sessions held by the GSPI team gathered a highly engaged crowd around how science and policy can best work together in One Health

Every two years, the Geneva Health Forum assembles key actors from different sectors to tackle global health challenges. COVID-19 and the international pandemic response was again at the core of the forum and the GSPI team dedicated its two meetings to fostering dialogue around building the science-policy interface for One Health.

One Health is a holistic approach that englobes human, animal and environmental health and is backed by the Quadripartite (FAO, OIE, UNEP and WHO) and the One Health High Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP). A recently announced prospective pandemic treaty underlines the need to rethink science-policy strategies to better respond to future health crises. Indeed, there is growing consensus that One Health should be an essential part of it.

During the morning panel discussion, co-organised with UNIGE’s Institute of Global Health, six key speakers addressed the opportunities and challenges for One Health to prevent and tackle pandemics through science and global health diplomacy. Nicolas Seidler (GSPI) opened the session with a retrospective on key events such as the Paris Peace Forum 2020 and the creation of OHHLEP, which paved the way for the adoption of a new pandemic treaty, and underlined Switzerland’s role in integrating One Health practices.

Niccolo Iorno from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, emphasised the “multilateral powerhouse” nature of International Geneva and the opportunities to bring scientific and diplomatic sides to work together. Catherine Machalaba (OHHLEP) highlighted the Quadripartite’s strong commitment to work together in an interdisciplinary manner. Presenting the preview of a soon-to-be-published policy brief on the One Health scientific landscape, Rafael Ruiz de Castaneda (University of Geneva) underscored the overall motivation and momentum within the academic community to engage with policy-makers.

One of the panelists speaks into the microphone
From the science-policy interface perspective, Maxime Stauffer (GSPI) raised questions on how to build knowledge and trigger action for pandemic preparedness and what are the key challenges in working under uncertainty.

Martin Mueller (Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator) spoke about GESDA’s positioning in the International Geneva ecosystem and raised the point of the existing “appetite for change” in the way science and diplomacy can intertwine. Finally, Erika Placella (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) set forth the various tools required for the operationalisation of One Health and advocated for a comprehensive approach to long-term coordinated efforts around the pandemic treaty and further.

Nearly one hundred participants attended the session and were eager to further engage with the topic.

The afternoon session was a closed-door workshop that brought scientists and policy-makers from different fields around the table. They reviewed how scientific expertise has been produced and used to inform policymaking during the COVID-19 pandemic. These lessons allowed them to dive deeper into ways of strengthening One Health global policies, namely by evaluating pros and cons of reshaping the existing science-policy interface (SPI) mechanisms and creating new ones to strengthen the preparedness and response to future One Health emergencies.

Panelist speaks at a round table.
The discussion, which was later split into three working groups, revolved around the institutional architecture of the existing SPI ecosystem and ways to foster high-quality scientific debate and interdisciplinary collaboration.

This interactive meeting was moderated by Gian-Luca Burci (Global Health Centre, IHEID) and featured interventions by Martin Beniston (University of Geneva, International Expert Panel on Climate Change, IPCC), Abdi Mahamud (WHO), Benjamin Roche (IRD, Prezode initiative), Alexandre Hobeika (CIRAD, MOOD project), and Erika Placella (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation).

Reports in the plenary highlighted the nuances and strategic considerations regarding setting up a formal science-policy mechanism for One Health. Overall, one half of the audience was in favour of replicating the IPCC model for One Health and the other half was against. A workshop report will come up in the next few months.

Both meetings and their successful attendance proved that there is ever-growing interest in learning from the COVID-19 crisis and in channelling One Health efforts towards an improved dialogue between the research and the decision-making worlds. Stay tuned for upcoming developments on the topic.