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OU development expert chosen for G20 'ideas bank' on health and COVID-19

6 April 2021

Photo of Smita Srinivas

Open University economist and development expert Professor Smita Srinivas has been appointed to a key taskforce which will shape global policy and strategies on health and pandemic response beyond 2021.

Professor Smita Srinivas (pictured) is one of seven international experts in the Global Health and COVID-19 Task Force (TF1), chosen under Italy’s leadership of the 2021 Task Forces to make policy recommendations to the G20 international forum for the world’s major economies. 

TF1 is the first-named of eleven taskforces which make up the T20, the ‘ideas bank’ that provides a channel for academic research and stakeholder expertise to inform G20 policies and strategies which can then be adapted in context and implemented by decision-makers at national and international level. 

This year’s G20 is chaired and hosted by Italy who organise the series of meetings and working groups culminating in a summit attended by all members’ heads of state, finance ministers and central bank governors in October. 

Smita Srinivas is a Professorial Research Fellow (Economics, DPP) in the Open University’s School of Social Sciences and Global Studies, who specialises in industrial policy and technological innovation, and has experience in working on health systems, the health industry among others, firm-level and industry investments, and broader economic development. 

She is the India Principal Investigator on an OU-led four-country study to analyse connections between industrial and health policies for improved access to cancer care in East Africa. 

Clinicians and economists needed

She says recent conflicts over COVID-19 vaccines, testing kits and PPE supply have demonstrated that health policy advice is needed not just from clinical specialists but people who understand issues such as production, supply chains, and intellectual property. “I find myself in the right place at the right time,” she says of this policy conversation. 

Professor Srinivas says the TF1 agenda will include ‘tough issues’.  Among its policy briefs will be, for example, how to improve global access to health supplies such as medicines, vaccines, medical equipment, and how to take forward the One Health agenda. 

Covid-19 has forced some acknowledgement of how our relationships with other living creatures, in particular our industrial food production practices in addition to habitat depletion, may be creating conditions for diseases to jump between animals and humans giving rise to pandemics, .

Another issue that looms large is how to establish a more effective international surveillance system for potential pandemics. 

TF1’s task will be to sift through and debate diverse proposals solicited not just from academics but from a broad range of experts, organisations and stakeholder collectives in relevant fields, evaluate these and turn them into clear, succinct and workable policy briefs which they can put across to ministers at the G20.

Other taskforces will be looking at issues including climate change, international finance and multilateral systems and it is most important, says Professor Srinivas, that these issues are not seen in isolation. 

“My hope is the integration of health concerns with not just climate but broader ecological concerns, and a preventative health agenda, gets taken seriously.

“What COVID has shown us is unless you have multidisciplinary teams, which are comfortable working in a multidisciplinary format, you are unlikely to get good advice.”

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