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Protests, Politicians, and Plants: The G7 Health Summit in Oxford

Charlie Hancock summarises the events in Oxford surrounding the G7 Health Ministers' Meeting.

Charlie Hancock
Charlie Hancock
Charlie is reading Human Sciences at Hertford College. After working as a News Editor and Deputy Editor, she was co-Editor in Chief with Jill Cushen for HT22.

Mansfield College hosted the G7 Health Ministers’ Meeting on the third and fourth of June.  Chaired by the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, the summit saw the health ministers of the G7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US) discuss global health issues which would feature on the agenda of the G7 Summit in Cornwall. South Korea, India, Australia and South Africa also participated virtually as guest nations.

A marquee was erected in Mansfield’s main quad to accommodate dining, since the dining hall was being used to host meetings. In an email sent to Mansfield students, Principal Helen Mountfield QC advised that students who lived off-site “may prefer to avoid travelling to the main site” at all over the period. 

In order to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to attendees, staff were required to take a daily COVID-19 test. Visitors were also expected to have tested negative. The email also said that attendees would be kept “as separate from College members as possible”.

Despite these efforts, Mr Hancock was challenged by a student over the long waiting times trans people in the UK experience waiting to receive medical interventions. NHS Guidelines advise that patients should not have to wait longer than 18 weeks to receive treatment after being referred by their GP. In January 2020, the average wait lasted 18 months, and over 13,500 people were on waiting lists for Gender Identity Clinics in England.

The Health Ministers said that the pandemic highlighted the need for a “broader and longer-term view of public health” to improve resilience against future outbreaks. They also acknowledged the disproportionate impact the pandemic and control measures had on women and girls, including the “intensification of gender-based violence”.

They also discussed measures to combat antimicrobial resistance, regulatory frameworks for clinical trials, and how digital healthcare systems and data could improve healthcare.

In Oxford, several protests were held to coincide with the meeting, with a variety of agendas in mind.

Protesters from the People’s Vaccine Alliance staged a protest on Broad Street to call for G7 countries to waive the intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines, which would allow laboratories unaffiliated with pharmaceutical developers to produce their own doses. President Biden has expressed support for the measure, and 100 non-G7 countries have demanded a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights.

Anna, a PhD student studying COVID-19 infection said: “We need to prevent a repeat of the AIDS epidemic, where thousands of lives were lost despite prophylactics and medication being available.”

A communique released after the meeting said: “We emphasise our support for global sharing of safe, effective, quality and affordable vaccine doses including working with COVAX when domestic situations permit. We affirm our support for efforts  strengthen supply chains and boost and diversify global vaccine manufacturing capacity, including for the materials needed to produce vaccines, including by sharing risks, and welcome the vaccines technology transfer hub launched by WHO. We recall in this regard the Charter for Equitable Access to COVID-19 Tools and welcome the commitments made in the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ equitable access and collaboration statement.”

Extinction Rebellion also staged a protest outside the Clarendon Building. They were joined by Doctors for Extinction Rebellion. The campaigners called on the G7 to address the impact of climate change on global health, including the spread of malaria, heat-related death and malnutrition.

The Health Ministers’ communique said they supported the One Health approach, in which “human, animal, plant and environmental health are linked”. It continued: “As health ministers, we will continue to work with environment, agriculture and other relevant ministers recognising the links between the health of humans and animals (both domestic and wildlife), biodiversity conservation, ecosystems and climate change, and the need to protect human health including through food and water safety and security, as well as from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.”

Another protest against lockdown and vaccination policy was also held to coincide with the ministers’ meeting. Speakers included Piers Corbyn, and Jeff Whyatt – a former UKIP parliamentary candidate. Some protesters argued against lockdown measures and a proposed vaccine passport policy, while others cast doubt over the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

Confidence in a vaccine was another public health issue discussed at the conference. “We also recognise the importance of vaccine confidence, and the severe risk posed by misinformation and disinformation about the importance, safety and effectiveness of vaccines on the acceptance and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines around the world. We commit to build confidence in science and provide timely, clear, coherent communication from different levels of government,” the communique said.

The meetings ended with a tree-planting ceremony in the Botanical Gardens. Ten sakura cherry trees were planted, one by each G7 representative, a local Chief Nurse, a representative of the WHO and of global health staff. Sakura cherry trees were chosen because in Japan, they symbolise the finite nature of life, as their pink blossoms bloom for a couple of weeks a year.

The Chief Nursing Officer at Oxford University Hospitals, Sam Foster, said: “It is a great honour to be asked to plant a tree to remember all the dedicated nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals who have cared for people with COVID-19 – including those who have lost their lives during the pandemic.

“We must never forget the contribution which every member of health and care staff has made during this time of unprecedented challenges for the NHS and globally.”

Vice Chancellor Louise Richardson said: “Oxford University is honoured to have Health Ministers and is very grateful for this gesture of commemoration for those who have lost their lives. Planting beautiful trees in our ancient Botanic Garden is a powerful affirmation of the health-giving properties of nature itself and will be a source of reflection for generations to come.”

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