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The COVID-19 Pandemic Underscores the Need for an Equity-focused Global Health Agenda

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Original languageEnglish
Article number15
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jan 2021
Accepted/In press1 Dec 2020
E-pub ahead of print18 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Global Health Research Unit on Health System Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa, King’s College London (GHRU 16/136/54) using UK aid from the UK Government to support global health research; and in part by a grant from Wellcome Trust (Ref. 204939/Z/16/Z: ZSSN: Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice). The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors. Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s). Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


King's Authors


Over the past few months, COVID-19 has ravaged health systems and economies in countries across the world. While many would argue that a pandemic of respiratory disease was predictable, the systematic failures of the response came as a surprise. From the shortage of hospital beds and medical equipment to the gross insufficiencies in national surveillance systems, supply chains and laboratory capacity, COVID-19 has laid bare the health care limitations that ‘global north’ and ‘global south’ share. A stark set of differences, however, run across the parallels in our collective predicament: indeed, what has become ever-more apparent is the radically uneven distribution of the health, social and economic risks associated with the pandemic—and the public health measures implemented in response—both within and between societies. As concerns grow over a prolonged period of COVID-19 waves, further insights are needed into who bears the largest share of COVID-19 burden and why. The pursuit of health equity is widely held to be global health’s raison d’être; and yet, the deep inequities laid bare by the current pandemic underscore that the field must do more and we must do better. This article identifies five key domains for equity research and action going forward. These ‘equity frontiers’ are not meant to be exhaustive. Rather our emphasis here is on drawing lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic as a prompt for a revived—if not rethought—equity agenda for an evolving global health field.

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