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BIPR | European and Global Responses to Covid-19
European and Global Responses to Covid-19

April 12, 2021 - 18:30

Debarati Guha-Sapir, School of Public Health, University of Louvain, Belgium

Event Recap

The night started with an overview of the event and an introduction of Prof. Debarati Guha-Sapir. The guest speaker opened the seminar with the challenges of discussing a topic as the one of the Covid-19 response. To start, Guha-Sapir clarified that, as an epidemiologist, she specializes on emergency response after humanitarian or natural crises. The focus of the field, however, is on the risk factors related to a disease spread. In that sense, a historic challenge has been related to solutions—vaccines—roll-out and distribution in the midst of a pandemic or epidemic. The key issue is getting to a place where a vaccine is available as a response, and then, how to get jabs into arms.

Specifically looking at the EU, the Professor mentioned the recently created 'Team Europe' equipped with €38bn in order to aid the European neighborhood. The problem, she mentions, is that the source of the capital came from reallocation, meaning, something else got cut from the budget. A second challenge for Team Europe, is the lack of long-term vision in global pandemic responses. The problem is that it mostly focuses on supplies funding, i.e., masks, ventilators, etc. This is a narrow vision on a pandemic response, she argues. Before opening up the floor to questions, Guha-Sapir pointed at three important lessons from the current pandemic. First, she pointed at the importance of breakage of international silos through global cooperation, an illustration is the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. Second, she mentioned the potential of new digital and analytical tools related to mobility control, enabling the discovery of pandemic origins and transmission path. Third and final, the need for international public health systems that enable stronger diagnosis, testing, vaccine development, surveillance and prevention. These three areas are key since the type of knee-jerk reactions Covid-19 witnessed is not going to be enough in the future.

To conclude, a panel of students and Professor Leigh posted questions, mostly related to the European response and how the pandemic is going to play out in the future. Some key remarks Professor Guha-Sapir left were the prognosis of a strong recovery in OECD countries with fall in hospitalizations and deaths as vaccines, alongside treatment, further develop. For the rest of the world, however, she mentioned it was much more difficult to estimate how things will play out. Regarding important lessons for policymakers and Europe more broadly, the guest mentioned the importance of relying on science when decisions are taking place, and the central relation between official communication and public trust. She also argued in favor of the collective approach to vaccine negotiations in the European Union, but pointed that the deployment challenges represented a loss for the EU's soft power. To conclude, Guha-Sapir mentioned the need for structurally reform the WHO.

Full Audio:

European and Global Responses to Covid-19
European and Eurasian Studies Series

hosted by Professor Michael Leigh

Debarati Guha-Sapir
School of Public Health, University of Louvain, Belgium

Europe's public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been criticized as slow and ineffective. Much of the developing world is awaiting the start of vaccination campaigns. Public authorities from the UN-WHO to the EU, national governments, regions and municipalities are struggling to cope with the pandemic.


Debarati Guha-Sapir is the Director of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters and a Professor at the University of Louvain School of Public Health, in Brussels and Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Belgium. She founded EMDAT - international reference database on natural disasters. Trained at Calcutta University, Johns Hopkins University and University of Louvain, she has a PhD in epidemiology.

She is involved in field research and training in humanitarian aid issues, working closely with the World Health Organization, UNHCR, UNDP and European Commission in various regions of the world, including China, Sudan, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Great Lakes, Somalia and Central America. Her research is focused on human impact of disasters and conflicts using Epidemiological methods. She is now researching global trends and patterns of human impact of disasters using several multidisciplinary datasets. Another area of her research is cause of mortality from crises events - a central theme for progress in the Sustainable Development Goals. Debarati collaborates with diverse researchers all over the world and is actively involved in field trials for effective measures of disaster risk reduction
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