In April 2020, an influential international group of medical professionals with clinical, epidemiological and health policy experience, alarmed at the prospects of the devastating health, social and economic effects of the COVID-19 in low and middle income countries and disadvantaged groups in high income countries, submitted an open letter to the UN Secretary General.
The letter brought attention to the structural and deepening health and socioeconomic inequities between and within countries and how the COVID-19 pandemic was further undermining health equity, the founding objective of the World Health Organization (WHO).
At the same time, the group reached out to people and organizations committed to the right to health. In the following days, the letter received support from over 300 defenders of the right to health, some 100 networks and organizations from all world regions, including the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), 30 former health ministers, and 12 former heads of state. It gathered scientists, health professionals and activists across a wide spectrum of disciplines, joined by the ethical principle of equity.
The letter was handed to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on 20 April 2020. He responded positively and connected the organizers of the letter with the WHO for follow-up discussions and activities.
Given the large support and deep concern from all regions with structural health inequities along with predictions of how the ongoing pandemic will play out, the organizing group established the Sustainable Health Equity Movement (SHEM) aimed at promoting analysis, networking and action at local, national and global level towards health equity in this and future generations.
Today IAP is an active member of SHEM, and is collaborating with a growing international network, including UN organizations, on health equity and sustainability at all levels.