Next up in our exclusive series of Congress interviews is this conversation with David Humphreys, Global Head of Health Policy at Economist Impact. David joined us for conversations about what we learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, and a discussion on Economist Impact’s Vaccine Ecosystem Initiative. We recently explored this in greater detail in a post before the event, which you can read here. We are grateful to David for his time and insights, and hope that you enjoy the interview!
Introducing David and Economist Impact
David kindly explains a little more about the intention behind Economist Impact, which he suggests “brings together” their “policy think tank” and the “creativity” of the media brand to “really tackle the big issues the world is facing”.
“In health, it’s really about generating better understanding, what drives better health and wellbeing, for everybody involved.”
David states that, although they often take a disease perspective, the team is increasingly moving towards the “intersection of health and society”.
As with many of our speakers, we were eager to understand what lessons or insights David could share from the pandemic. He thinks that one thing that happened was a positive shift, leading to a better understanding of all aspects of health.
“People have redefined what wellbeing really means.”
Furthermore, from an economic perspective, we have a greater awareness of the fact that productivity is closely associated with investment in health.
“A healthy population is a productive population.”
Although we covered the Vaccine Ecosystem Initiative briefly before the Congress, we asked for a bit more of an insight into the what and why of the organisation. David suggests that it started as a “really basic premise”.
“We didn’t see a lot of attention paid to a really important tool in public health.”
During the pandemic, two opportunities presented themselves. The first was the possibility to learn during the largest global rollout of vaccines in history. The second took a forward-looking view:
“How can we galvanise people across the ecosystem to drive vaccines for the future?”
The intent was to raise awareness and “generate a sustainable and equitable system” for vaccine development, as well as learning during the COVID-19 experience. The team split the ecosystem into two areas and identified different pillars. They also developed the “first of its kind” Immunisation Readiness Index. This compares the policies of different countries to ask a key question.
“What leverage do I have at my disposal to be able to immunise the people with the right type of vaccine at the right moment?”
What about equity and access?
As David has mentioned, developing an “equitable” system is a key focus for the Initiative. We asked about the relationship between equity and immunisation, and how important this is.
“Equity and access go hand in hand.”
From a policy standpoint, equity means “prioritising those marginalised populations”. Putting this into practice means “engaging those communities and understanding their particular needs”. We also need accountability, says David.
“Are we accountable, and not just reaching a certain percentage of the population overall but reaching those marginalised groups that are really at the forefront?”
Looking forward, the equity is about the future of vaccine development as much as the present. Considering the consequences of climate change, which puts more populations and greater risk of disease, David emphasises the importance of providing vaccines to those in need.
“Having a system that drives investment, that drives collaboration, and focus on those things to come.”
This approach would enable us to be at the “forefront” of disease prevention.
Disease X and future threats
David mentions the importance of preparedness for future threats when considering equity. We asked more about how we can be better prepared for the next threat. His answer highlights another lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic: “the importance of a shared value and goals”. David points to the remarkable collaboration and pooling of resources as something that we should try to take forward.
Our final question, as always, invites the speaker to share their hopes for and highlights of the Congress. For David, “learning and hearing” from the members of the ecosystem is exciting.
“To be able to be part of that community and see how we take this forward.”
He suggests that a “positive” effect from the “terrible pandemic” should be a “rebalance” of focus on immunisation. We hope he found that to be the case at the Congress.
We are grateful to David for his time and participation in this interview, and hope that it gives our community an insight into the work done by the Initiative and David’s team. To learn more about the Congress, click here to download out post-event report.