UnitedGMH Response to the Draft HLM PPPR Political Declaration

Written by Sarah Kline Co-founder and CEO

Sarah Kline addresses the HLM meeting on PPPR in New York

Sarah Kline addresses the HLM meeting on PPPR in New York

“Mental health – if we are to leave this out, we would be ignoring a major area of need” – Honourable Carla Vizzotti, Minister of Health, Argentina. Delivered at the High-Level Meeting on Pandemic, Prevention, Preparation and Response, 20th September 2023.

At the UN General Assembly, the High-Level Meeting (HLM) on Pandemic Prevention, Preparation and Response (PPPR) reflected on the COVID-19 pandemic and set out actions that need to be taken next.

From the early days of COVID-19, we had to work hard with the UN Secretary General and many others, to make the case for the integration of mental health in the prevention, preparation and response to the pandemic. Despite the mounting evidence of worsening mental health, particularly among young people and healthcare workers, during the pandemic there was a drop in funding and staff were diverted from mental health to physical health services. World Health Organisation (WHO) research found that in the first year of the pandemic, COVID-19 contributed to a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression

We are really pleased that in the latest draft of the HLM on PPPR issued by the President of the UN General Assembly, mental health is mentioned at the outset of the resolution, where it says member states: “Reaffirm the right of every human being, without distinction of any kind, to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” There is strong recognition of the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of health workers, and on children and young people’s wellbeing due to interruptions in their education.

In total, the document includes nine mentions of mental health including several in the list of recommended actions (a “Call to Action”), that aim at “mobilizing [sic] political will at the national, regional and international levels for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”  One recommendation is support for the mental health and well-being of health workers and all those responding to pandemics, particularly women. This is important as there were widespread reports of the negative impact on the mental health of health workers and those working to respond to the pandemic, which led to record numbers of workers in some countries leaving their profession; while others struggled with their own mental health even as they supported others.  

There is also a call to action to prioritise the “particular needs and vulnerabilities of persons” for example, those with disabilities and those living with non-communicable diseases; and those who are vulnerable or in vulnerable situations, which may include mental health and psychosocial support… without any discrimination and with informed consent. The point about the most vulnerable cannot be overstated since those living in mental health institutions were not always prioritised for care; there were even reports of people being denied the vaccine because of their status as mental health patients.

So what is missing? We would have liked to have seen an explicit call for mental health to be part of pandemic prevention, preparedness and response plans and budgets from the outset. The delays in support for mental health and well-being during COVID-19 caused unnecessary suffering and arguably contributed to the challenges faced by those leading the national and international response. We would like mental health to be clearly eligible for pandemic-related financing not just before and during a pandemic, but also during recovery. This is particularly important as we see the long-term impacts of the pandemic including long COVID. 

And, while it was recognised as an issue, we would have liked to have seen a commitment by the HLM to take action and deliver “measures to counter and address the negative impacts of health-related misinformation, disinformation, hate speech, and stigmatisation,” especially on social media platforms, on people’s physical and mental health…” This is important as there was widespread disinformation, and it was well documented that people experienced additional stress and anxiety as a result, in addition to prolonging the pandemic itself. 

Looking forward, the HLM PPR is only one step in a long road for the international community to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and try to do better next time. We remain committed to working with our partners to keep pressing for the integration of mental health at every stage of pandemic prevention, preparation, response, and recovery.