Attributes of national governance for an effective response to public health emergencies: lessons from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Yibeltal Assefa, Solomon Woldeyohannes, Katherine Cullerton, Charles F Gilks, Simon Reid, Wim Van Damme

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Background: The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic takes variable shapes and forms in different regions and countries. This variability is explained by several factors, including the governance of the epidemic. We aimed to identify the key attributes of governance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and gain lessons for an effective response to public health emergencies.

Methods: We employed a mixed-methods design. We mapped the attributes of governance from well-established governance frameworks. A negative binomial regression was conducted to identify the effect of the established governance measures on the epidemiology of the COVID-19 pandemic. We used publicly available data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in countries around the world. Document review was conducted to identify the key approaches and attributes of governance during the pre-vaccine era of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We conducted a thematic analysis to identify key attributes for effective governance.

Results: The established governance measures, including generation of intelligence, strategic direction, regulation, partnership, accountability, transparency, rule of law, control of corruption, responsiveness, effectiveness, efficiency, equity, ethics, and inclusiveness, are necessary but not sufficient to effectively respond to and contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional attributes of national governance were identified: 1) agile, adaptive, and transformative governance; 2) collective (collaborative, inclusive, cooperative, accountable, and transparent) governance; 3) multi-level governance; 4) smart and ethical governance: sensible, pragmatic, evidence-based, political, learner, and ethical.

Conclusions: The current governance frameworks and their attributes are not adequate to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. We argue that countries need agile, adaptable, and transformational, collaborative, multi-level, smart and ethical governance to effectively respond to emerging and re-emerging public health threats. In addition, an effective response to public health emergencies depends not only on national governance but also on global governance. Hence, global health governance should be urgently renewed through a paradigm shift towards universal health coverage and health security to all populations and in all countries. This requires enhanced and consistent global health diplomacy based on knowledge, solidarity, and negotiation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number05021
JournalJournal of Global Health
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Emergencies
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Pandemics/prevention & control
  • Public Health


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