More than 350 experts from over 100 countries reach a consensus on how to end COVID-19 as a public health threat without exacerbating the socio-economic impact or putting the most vulnerable at risk

Getting a few people in a room to agree on something is not easy. Now imagine getting more than 350 experts from around the world to agree on something as complex as how to end COVID-19 as a public health threat. A team led by Jeffrey V Lazarus, co-director of the Viral and Bacterial Infections Programme, did just that.

“This study may prove to be a model for developing responses to future global health emergencies”

A methodology for consensus-building

Despite impressive scientific and medical advances, the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been hampered by political, socio-economic and behavioural factors, including a lack of global coordination, inequitable access to vaccines and treatments, and disinformation. “Each country has responded differently, and often inadequately, mostly because of a serious lack of coordination and of clear goals,” says Lazarus.

To develop a global consensus on how to address these issues going forward, he and his colleagues conducted a Delphi study—a well-established research methodology that challenges experts to reach a consensus on answers to complex research questions. More than 386 academic, health, NGO, government and other experts from 112 countries took part in three rounds of consultation.

Actionable recommendations

The result is a set of 41 statements and 57 recommendations in six main areas: communication; health systems; vaccination; prevention; treatment and care; and inequities. Three of the highest-ranked recommendations are: i) a whole-of-society strategy, involving multiple sectors; ii) a whole-of-government approach with coordination between ministries, and iii) a vaccines-plus strategy that includes COVID-19 vaccination and other preventive measures, treatment and financial support. Effective communication, rebuilding public trust and engaging communities in the pandemic response were also highly ranked, with over 99% agreement.

“To the greatest degree possible, we provide recommendations that can be implemented in months, not years, to help bring this public health threat to an end,” says Quique Bassat, ICREA professor at ISGlobal and co-author of the study.

A model for future health crises

What makes this work unique is the very large number of experts consulted, the broad geographical representation, and the study design, which emphasises consensus-building and identifies areas of disagreement. “Indeed,” says Lazarus, “this may prove to be a model for guiding responses to future global health emergencies.”

Lazarus JV, Romero D, Kopka CJ et al. A multinational Delphi consensus to end the COVID-19 public health threat. Nature, 2022. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05398-2

Photo: UN Women, Fahad Abdullah Kaizer