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    WHO launches independent evaluation, EU may follow

    A queue of travellers at Zaventem airport outside Brussels on 10 July, credit The Brussels Times

    While WHO has announced the launch of an evaluation of its response to Covid-19, the EU is still hesitant and questions if it should be done when it is fighting the pandemic.

    At its virtual meeting in May, the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of WHO, requested the WHO Director-General, dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to initiate an “independent and comprehensive evaluation to review experience gained and lessons learned” from the WHO-coordinated response to COVID-19.

    In remarks to WHO member states yesterday (9 July), he said that the independent evaluation has been launched and will be co-chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

    Prime Minister Clark went on to lead the United Nations Development Programme and President Sirleaf is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Operating independently, they will choose other panel members as well as members of an independent secretariat to provide support.

    “I cannot imagine two more strong-minded, independent leaders to help guide us through this critical learning process, to help us understand what happened – an honest assessment – and to help us understand also what we should do to prevent such a tragedy in the future. So collectively, as a world to say ‘never again’ to such kind of tragedy.”

    Dr Tedros outlined also the time plan for the evaluation. A special session of the Executive Board of the WHO will be called in September to discuss the panel’s progress. In November the panel will present an interim report at the resumption of the World Health Assembly.

    In January 2021, the Executive Board will hold its regular session, where the panel’s work will be further discussed; and in May of next year, at the World Health Assembly, the panel will present its substantive report.

    Dr Tedros proposed that the terms of reference for the panel will be developed in consultation with member states, with the co-chairs in the lead. He also encouraged all member states to offer suggestions for world-class candidates that can fulfil the role to be members of the panel that can be considered by the co-chairs.

    Dr Tedros is convinced that the time is right for self-reflection and a “very honest reflection”, as the pandemic is still accelerating and “knows no borders, does not care about our political differences, and disregards the distinctions we draw between health and economy, lives and livelihoods.”

    “This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control,” he said. “The magnitude of this pandemic, which has touched virtually everyone in the world, clearly deserves a commensurate evaluation.”

    This is not a standard report that ticks a box and is then put on a shelf to gather dust, he said. “This is something we take seriously. We learn honestly, and we follow through too, honest to the assessment, and honest to the follow through and implementation.”

    Dr Tedros promised the two co-chairs that WHO will be put forward “like an open book, so you can have full access, so you can see what was done” and called on all member states to open up and show them everything as an “open book, so we understand honestly and truthfully.”

    “After every outbreak in recent history, there are lessons that we have learned to protect ourselves better. And the world has made some progress in pandemic preparedness. But it is also clear that we have much more work to do.”

    Despite all the warnings, the world was not ready for the outbreak of Covid-19.  “Our systems were not ready. Our communities were not ready. Our supply chains collapsed.”

    “All of us must look in the mirror – WHO, every member state, all involved in the response. Together, we now have a once in a generation opportunity to prove to each other that we can be greater than the sum of our parts.”

    Asked by The Brussels Times whether the EU will be represented in the WHO panel, the chief spokesperson of the European Commission replied at today’s press conference (10 July) that it was too early to say.

    If the Commission decides to propose a potential candidate to support the evaluation of the Covid pandemic, it will identify the person soon and reach out to the chairs of the panel, indicating its interests. Details of the engagement would then need to be clarified at a later stage, according to the Commission.

    Does the Commission plan to launch an evaluation or investigation of its own response to Covid – 19?

    “We are still in a crisis, from the point of view of health and economy, with our focus firmly on navigating our way out of the crisis as quickly as possible,” he replied. That said, EU is also drawing the lessons learned of the initial phases of the crisis to be better prepared for the future.

    Whether the Commission will launch some kind of evaluation in the near future is still uncertain. The College of Commissioners is expected to look into EU’s preparedness for a second wave and a resurgence of the health crisis at its meeting next week. “There surely will be time later to reflect on how it went.”

    M. Apelblat
    The Brussels Times