High-level roundtable on using science, technology and innovation to close the gap on Sustainable Development Goal 3 on good health and well-being

18 May 2021 12:00h - 14:00h

Event report

The session was moderated by Mr Ruijun Wang (Vice-Chair of CSTD) and discussed national and international experiences and policies on using science, technology, and innovation (STI) to close the gap on SDG3, on good health and well-being. Wang stressed that panellists would address how policy makers use STI to enhance health care for all; how equal access to STI and health care may be ensured to all during the Covid 19 pandemic in developing countries; how healthcare systems can include marginalised groups; how to assess the main risks in using frontier technology in health care; and the lessons involving digitalisation of healthcare.

Ms Shamika N Sirimanne (Director, Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) started her presentation by introducing the report of the Secretary-General (E/CN.16/2021/2) produced by the CSTD Secretariat. In the report, STI is emphasised as critical to the achievement of sustainable development. Particularly, during the Covid-19 crisis, STI has been mobilised to track purposes, treatment, vaccines, and tests. In addition, digital technologies involving telemedicine and medication have reduced costs of healthcare. Moreover, the application of big data and AI has enabled the identification of health emergencies at a rapid pace. Yet despite STI developments in developed countries, healthcare innovations still face enormous challenges in developing countries, given their lack of physical infrastructure and skilled workers. The report indicates that 5 million children still die of preventable and treatable diseases every year, most of them in developing countries. To address these problems, international collaboration and solidarity are essential. Private and public actors should include open access to scientific collaboration during challenging times and undertake serious discussions regarding property rights and patents of medicines. Sirimanne concluded by saying that equitable access to scientific knowledge is crucial to close the gap in STI and global solidarity is a critical enabler.

Mr John Reeder (Director, Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, WHO) agreed with Sirimanne on the importance of ensuring equal access to STI. Reeder believes that since the answer to the Covid-19 crisis lies in the provision of broad access to vaccines to the global South, sustainable technology to support developing countries is needed. Supporting the sharing of technologies and know-how is also required. Lessons learned from the current crisis go beyond this pandemic and point to the necessity of open access to scientific knowledge and global solidarity.

Examples of how the innovation that helped to address AIDS in Africa has been used in the current pandemic were presented by Ms Quarraisha Abdool Karim (Professor in Clinical Epidemiology and Associate Scientific Director, Center for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa, 10-Member Group to support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism). Karim said that the use of phylogenetics has helped to reveal the cycle of the virus transmission; molecular surveillance has enabled rapid detection of emergence of new variants, including the one found in South-Africa; and rapid diagnosis technology has enhanced access to care and prevention.

Mr José E Cassiolato (Professor, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) considers that the concept of health should not be grounded in the notion of disease. The correlation of health and lack of disease is one supported by the pharmaceutical industry. Cassiolato stressed that when health is measured in terms of development and quality of life, policies related to the improvement of health of a population become focused on economic policies, fair trade, and equal access to STI.

Frontier technologies can provide great opportunities for developing countries in the early detection of diseases and their prevention, underlined Ms Joannie Marlene Bewa (Physician, Board Chair of Women in Global Health, United Nations Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals). Improving access to STI has direct consequences for increasing the quality of healthcare of marginalised groups.

Mr Ebrima Sillah (Minister of Information and Communications Infrastructure, Gambia) said that the government of Gambia has institutionalised STI projects in the past decade. In 2012, it improved access to ICT by implementing submarine cables. Moreover, since 2005, the national informational policies have emphasised building, sustaining, and achieving an appropriate ecosystem for STI.

The current pandemic has underlined the importance of SDG3. Common challenges in the healthcare systems of developing countries include research, infrastructure, and investment. The Philippines has long recognised the value of STI for healthcare development. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Ministry of Science and Technology mobilised the know-how of diagnosis programs of dengue and leptospirosis to develop early PCR tests. In addition, ICT has been used for border control in the country, Mr Fortunato T de la Peña (Minister of Science and Technology, The Philippines) explained.

Mr Shibli Faraz (Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Pakistan) stated that a smart use of science accompanied by a global financing framework will be essential to ensure good healthcare. Frontier technology such as big data, machine learning, gene editing, and robotics have immense potential to shape health systems. However, these technologies are not equally available. Faraz made the following suggestions regarding the achievement of the SDG targets: 1. equitable international trade, especially for developing countries, as a means to improve the health sector; 2. international collaboration in scientific research and the transfer of technology; 3. equitable access to vaccines; 4. increase of STI-related development assistance to developing countries; and 5. promotion of north-south, south-south and triangular cooperation on STI strategies.

Mr Mani Bhattarai (Ambassador and Representative of Nepal to the UN) mentioned that only 17% of the vaccines were delivered to developing countries. Nepal appreciates the US leadership in the fight for vaccine access in developing countries. The country has faced challenges related to the costs of vaccines and to the infrastructure needed to ensure the constitutional rights of its citizens to healthcare, even if some improvements have been achieved. In this regard, Nepal urges international collaboration and solidarity.