Q4.What is your geographic coverage at UNITE?
We have over 170 members across the globe and we represent more than 70 countries, which has been key to our success and a quick turnaround over the past three years. We have divided the globe into 10 regions that we call ‘chapters’, including a Western and Central European chapter, a Central African chapter, and an Eastern and Southern African chapter. Each chapter has a Chair, who is a leading Parliamentarian who is the face of the organisation for that region. The chair will assess the key policy barriers that are present in that region and identify the best way for UNITE to intervene.
UNITE has always been very keen on making sure it’s a network where members of Parliament from different countries, different cultural realities, different backgrounds and even different ideologies come together and work on a shared goal. Our board is made up of nine leading Parliamentarians and we are proud to say our board is approx. 60-70% women, including individuals from countries such as Kenya, Ghana, India, Argentina, Georgia, Philippines and Germany. We have had recent interest from Liberia and Namibia and our current aim is to recruit a key champion in the US and Canadian region. So it is a very diverse and dynamic board set-up.
Q5.UNITE’s ‘Priority Infectious Disease Areas’ include the following: vaccination, Sustainable development goals (sdgs), drug policy, vulnerable populations, outbreak preparedness,response and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Q5.1) The emergence of COVID-19 illustrates the need for better outbreak preparedness and response (one of your key focal areas). What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your work? How can UNITE’s work ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes? What are the key learnings?
Q5.2) AMR is largely a neglected global health threat. In 2019, the UN Ad hoc Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance estimated that drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050. What more needs to be done to prevent AMR from becoming a global crisis? How can we re-focus the spotlight on AMR when currently COVID-19 and other pandemic-like threats have taken full focus?
COVID-19…that really was a game changer for us. COVID-19 put us and our work on the radar in understanding that UNITE and other parliamentary networks hold enormous power. A key example is with the lockdowns, when Parliamentarians had to approve lockdown measures and provide non-medical answers to the pandemic. It showed us that we needed to develop a new way of communicating with our members of Parliament, explain the actions of the key partners and develop a new strategy in order to engage key organisations such as Gavi and the World Bank. It was an opportunity to make sure that the old ways of conducting policy change had been accelerated and made more dynamic. Now Parliamentarians and UNITE have a seat at the table in the decision-making process.
In terms of not making the same mistakes again, it really depends on holding national governments accountable, holding accountability to our representatives and understanding the power that they possess. Global health has become a key area, it is amazing to see heads of states in various countries discussing vaccination rollouts and how much funding they will give to these organisations. So, I think we should not repeat the same mistakes by understanding that this is important, and it is not an issue we should brush aside, it is an important topic that cannot follow the same path of the HIV pandemic – we cannot leave it unfinished. Political leaders now need to understand that they should be held accountable.
Essentially, UNITE serves as a gatekeeper between Parliamentarians such as Gavi and other key organisations. Parliamentarians are at the interface between national governments, civil society, philanthropic organisations, international organisations, media and the private sector. They are the ones that are truly elected, they have this uniqueness, this under-utilised tool of representing the people. It is about working with all the stakeholders and working across the board. It is down to the international parliaments to say to the policymakers that we need to do more, it is about working together and across all areas to translate words into action.
From a UNITE perspective, we have been working with several partners that are doing the in-depth reviews of the policy changes needed, it is up to Parliamentarians, particularly in the European region where we have been working with key members of Parliament, to ensure AMR strategies continue to be developed. It is the responsibility of members of Parliament to ensure that this translates into action in the AMR space. At UNITE, it is our job to make sure that the table of members of Parliament is always filled with many topics, such as AMR in order to ensure that these vital topics are not overlooked or neglected.