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Don’t Forget About Mental Health: Broadening Our Approach to Emergency Preparedness

We all desperately want the COVID-19 pandemic to be over but it’s still clearly among us and will have a lasting impact. While many of the continued metrics on COVID outcomes remain focused on physical illness, we know that there were more than 53 million new cases of major depressive disorders and more than 76 million new cases of anxiety disorders globally in 2020 alone due to the pandemic. As an action-oriented organization focused on the intersection of behavioral health, social justice and human rights, the Global Alliance has focused recent advocacy efforts in response to the international calls for recommendations regarding pandemic preparedness.

In December 2021, the World Health Assembly “established an intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement or other international instrument under the Constitution of the World Health Organization to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.” As a result, the INB held its first set of public hearings on April 12-13, 2022 regarding a new international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response. For the first round of hearings, the guiding question was:  

  • “What substantive elements do you think should be included in a new international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response?”

The Global Alliance responded by maintaining its guiding principles at the core of our recommendations. On behalf of the Global Alliance, Silicia Lomax spoke in the second session of the first public hearing on April 12th sharing recommendations for future pandemic preparedness and response and the Global Alliance submitted a written statement. Both the written and spoken remarks included the following five recommendations:

  • Be inclusive of mental health and well-being as a core tenet of the convention objectives
  • Integrate the principles of human rights into all recommendations
  • Include interdisciplinary approaches that are grounded in science
  • Incorporate measures of accountability for each nation and its leaders that ensure equitable health promotion and disease prevention.
  • Provide tools and resources to nations for emergency preparedness

These most recent examples are part of a continued commitment toward mental health inclusion in pandemic preparedness and response. In addition to these statements to the World Health Assembly, the Global Alliance has given recommendations regarding pandemic preparedness and response in other forums. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) held a public listening session in August 2021 on “Strengthening World Health Organization (WHO) Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies” in which the Global Alliance submitted written and oral statements recommending the inclusion of mental health in emergency preparedness. Additionally, a written statement was submitted in May 2022, for the HHS Office of Global Affairs: Virtual Stakeholder Listening Session in preparation for the 75th World Health Assembly.  The Global Alliance also published a recent resolution on pandemic preparedness principally drafted by Silicia Lomax and Gita Jaffe.

The Global Alliance will continue to advocate for the inclusion of mental health and well-being as an important component in responding to public health emergencies. In discussing new directions for behavioral health, we look forward to championing this effort and diving further into our action steps in this year’s Coming Together for Action Conference in October 2022.

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