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What Role Can Spanish Cooperation Play in the Response to COVID-19 and the Prevention of Future Crises?

Series | COVID-19 & response strategy #14


This document is one of a series of discussion notes addressing fundamental questions about the COVID-19 crisis and response strategies. These documents are based on the best scientific information available and may be updated as new information comes to light.

Written by three authors working at ISGlobal: Gonzalo Fanjul, Director of Policy; Leire Pajín, Director of Global Development; and Virginia Rodríguez, an Advocacy Officer, the text addresses the role Spanish Cooperation can play in the response to COVID-19 and the prevention of future crises.

The worldwide spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has triggered a health and economic crisis without precedent in our recent history, which is currently straining the limits of the global system for human protection, governance and security. While the final story of this pandemic has not yet been written, some of the lessons learned have started to emerge more clearly. The first of these is that, more than ever before, the well-being and safety of every person in the world depends on the well-being and safety of all the others. The second is that this mutual dependence underscores the importance of joint responses and international aid and confirms the position of global health as a strategic component of every country’s national security policy and an investment rather than an expense. These lessons are absolutely in line with the logic and road map set out in the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

In this scenario, few tools will be more useful than international development cooperation, a modest mechanism for the global redistribution of wealth, but one with enormous potential for promoting innovation, consolidating good practices and leveraging other sources of finance. In the context of the COVID-19 response and, in particular, the prevention of future pandemics, development aid policies can play a strategic role in the early detection of threats, the generation of rapid and effective responses, joint interventions involving both public and private actors, and the financing of the entire process. To achieve this, however, we will need to rethink some of the assumptions that have underpinned our work to date and implement reforms that will adapt the current system of cooperation to the new situation. This transformation is already underway in the field of global health and is happening with surprising speed. Spain is in a position to play an important role in this process and has a responsibility to do so.

Before the start of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Spain had already announced some of the principal lines of its foreign policy: a more multilateralist approach, the central role of cooperation and humanitarian policy as a global projection of Spain’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda, and a return to a leadership role commensurate with its scientific and economic contributions in the field of global health. The current crisis—in which Spain has been one of earliest and most severely affected countries in the world—has only served to reinforce this logic. There is no exit strategy from this crisis for individual countries, a reality recently emphasised on several occasions by the President of our government.

In this new phase, Spanish cooperation must recommit to the solidarity goals declared in the past, and then take the next step. It is time to integrate this policy into a multilateral plan for the welfare and security of all based on cooperation and global public goods rather than the isolationist and unilateral approach advocated by some powers.

Spain—like the European Union—aspires to a model of shared prosperity aligned with the 2030 Agenda, but neither its policies nor its budgets, as yet, to live up to this rhetoric. Spain’s response to the international coronavirus crisis must be leveraged to further the reform of its official cooperation and adapt it to the needs and opportunities of the new context. The following are ISGlobal’s recommendations.

On the immediate response to COVID-19

  1. Spanish Cooperation should be aligned with and contribute conscientiously to the WHO strategic plan, the UN humanitarian response and other important multilateral initiatives. Specifically, it should take part in the following: the multilateral humanitarian response and external debt relief initiatives; the effort to strengthen health systems; and the support for crisis response and de-escalation strategies in countries that require assistance, working actively to ensure gender equality and to prevent this effort from jeopardising other health priorities.
  2. In the case of its bilateral aid programme, Spain should share the knowledge it has acquired during the response to the pandemic with its partner countries and mobilise available health resources. This will result in the creation of knowledge exchange platforms that will be of use to everyone.
  3. Spain has a responsibility to do everything it can to support the development of diagnostic tools, treatments and vaccines against COVID-19 and to ensure that these are accessible and affordable to all populations. This support must be expressed publicly in Europe Union debates and the replenishment forums of the various bodies, as well as in the discussions of the G20 between now and its meeting in November.
  4. Our country has the opportunity to become a guarantor of the interests of middle-income countries in the global response strategy and in the debate on access to treatments and vaccines. This means paying particular attention to the approval of mechanisms to guarantee affordable prices in regions, such as Latin America, that are excluded from GAVI vaccine distribution programmes.

On global health policies

  1. Spain needs to draw up and promote a Global Health Strategy driven by development aid, but in combination with other policies. Following the road map set out in the 2030 Agenda, this strategy should incorporate objectives and strategies in each of the six priority areas listed in section 2 of this document.
  2. Spanish cooperation should help to support plans to strengthen health systems, and to strengthen networks and tools for the prevention and early detection of new infectious outbreaks in the world’s most vulnerable regions and the capacity to respond rapidly to such events. This work should include the promotion of universal health coverage and epidemiological surveillance mechanisms.
  3. Spain ought to adapt cooperation instruments and programmes to foster multi-actor alliances capable of achieving innovative and high-impact transformations and thereby creating a culture of collaboration between scientific, academic, private, public and non-governmental actors.