A damning report into the Covid-19 pandemic commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded that the global disaster could have been avoided.
The independent review found that there were “weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response” and gaps in international and national responses “that must be corrected”.
The WHO was “under-powered”, the alert system too slow and “too meek” and global political leadership “absent”, according to the report released on Wednesday by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.
It said “valuable time was lost” in the early days of the pandemic after the virus was detected in China in December 2019 because international emergency declaration procedures were “much too slow” to prevent the spread of a fast-moving respiratory pathogen.
For a month after the declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on January 30, 2020, the report continued, “too many countries took a ‘wait and see’ approach rather than enacting an aggressive containment strategy that could have forestalled the global pandemic.”
The panel said that a “combination of poor strategic choices, unwillingness to tackle inequalities, and an uncoordinated system created a toxic cocktail which allowed the pandemic to turn into a catastrophic human crisis.”
Panel Co-Chair and former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the current system had “failed to protect us from the Covid-19 pandemic. And if we do not act to change it now, it will not protect us from the next pandemic threat, which could happen at any time.”
“The shelves of storage rooms in the UN and national capitals are full of reports and reviews of previous health crises,” she said. “Had their warnings been heeded, we would have avoided the catastrophe we are in today. This time must be different.”
And the report warned that the world needed an international system “fast” to stop future disease outbreaks from becoming “catastrophic pandemics”. It said that even as countries continue to battle Covid crises, a “new pathogen with pandemic potential could emerge at any time.”
“These gaps in preparedness need urgent rectification,” the report continued.
Calling for urgent reform, the panel said the current system was “clearly unfit” to prevent another infectious pathogen from developing into a pandemic.
“Covid-19 is the 21st century’s Chernobyl moment … because it has shown so clearly the
gravity of the threat to our health and well-being,” the report said.
“It has caused a crisis so deep and wide that presidents, prime ministers and heads of international and regional bodies must now urgently accept their responsibility to transform the way in which the world prepares for and responds to global health threats.”
Former prime minister and panel co-chair Helen Clark said that the panel wanted to make “bold recommendations for change”.
“The tools are available to put an end to the severe illnesses, deaths, and socio-economic damage caused by Covid-19. Leaders have no choice but to act and stop this happening again,” she added.
The panel called for heads of state and government to lead the way in transforming the existing system with forward-looking reforms, including:
– Establishing a Global Health Threats Council to maintain political commitment and accountability, along with a Pandemic Framework Convention within the next six months
– Creating a transparent, global system for surveillance, giving the WHO authority to immediately publish information about outbreaks and to dispatch experts to investigate
– Investing in national preparedness with governments reviewing their plans and allocating funds and people required in case of another health crisis.
– Transforming the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator into a global platform delivering public goods including vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, and supplies swiftly and equitably worldwide
– Strengthening the authority and financing of the WHO, including by developing a new funding model to end earmarked funds and increase Member State fees
– Creating an International Pandemic Financing Facility to mobilise long term (10-15 year) contributions of around US$5-10 billion per year to finance readiness. It should be ready to disburse US$50-100bn at short notice by front-loading future commitments in the event of a pandemic. The Global Health Threats Council would allocate and monitor funding to institutions working to develop preparedness and response capacities
– Heads of state and government should at a global summit adopt a political declaration under the auspices of the UN General Assembly to commit to these transformative reforms
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