Share article:
Share article:

How to reinforce WHO and make COVID-19 the last pandemic

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, credit: WHO

The international panel of experts which was tasked to review the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19 presented its report on Wednesday.

The report follows a resolution adopted in May last year by the  World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of WHO, expressing support for WHOs role in coordinating the response to the pandemic. However, calls for an external investigation of the response were replaced by a request to WHO’s Director-General to initiate an evaluation of lessons learned at his own timing.

At the same assembly, WHO was also requested to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population. After many delays, an international group visited China in January 2021 and presented its report in April. That report was not conclusive and left all options on the table as regards the source of the virus, according to Dr Tedros, the WHO Director-General.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), co-chaired by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Helen Clark, started its work in September 2020 and has spent the last eight months reviewing evidence of the spread, actions and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In contrast the previous report, the IPPPR claims that is has produced a definitive account of what happened and why it happened and analysed how a pandemic can be prevented from happening again. “COVID-19 remains a global disaster. Worse, it was a preventable disaster,” the report summarises its findings.

The Independent Panel found weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response. Preparation was inconsistent and underfunded. The alert system was too slow—and too meek. The World Health Organization was under-powered. The response has exacerbated inequalities. Global political leadership was absent.

As regards the chain of events and the specific role and performance of WHO, the panel identified 13 “defining moments” when a change in direction could have made a difference. What appears to be missing is an analysis of the late decision by WHO to declare the outbreak of the coronavirus a pandemic.

During “the month following the declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on 30 January 2020, too many countries took a ‘wait and see’ approach rather than enacting an aggressive containment strategy that could have forestalled the global pandemic,” according to the Panel.

What about WHO? Dr Tedros warned repeatedly during that period that the world had a window of opportunity, though steadily narrowing, to prepare and to prevent widespread community transmission. WHO did issue advice but it was not always specific, such as proposing travel restrictions and quarantines of travellers from China and other affected countries.

Only on 11 March did WHO made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. The WHO Director-General has defended himself against allegations that WHO did not act in time to alert the world. “From the beginning, WHO has acted quickly and decisively to respond and to warn the world. We sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often.”

The Panel explains that, “We alternate between the paralyzing anxiety of indecision, when faced with something truly unpredictable, and the temptation to impose our old models on the new events, whether they fit well or not. This pandemic has seen plenty of evidence of both reactions. “

“It is tempting to assert that it is ‘obvious’ what should have been done at each stage in the past, based on the knowledge we have gained now,” the Panel writes.

To make COVID-19 the last pandemic (the title of the report), the Panel has issued a number of recommendations that will remedy the shortcomings and failures during the current pandemic.

Among others, pandemic preparedness and response should be elevated to the highest level of political leadership by the establishment of a high-level Global Health Threats Council led by Heads of State. A Pandemic Framework Convention should be adopted within the next 6 months to strengthen the independence, authority and financing of WHO.

The financial independence of WHO should be based on fully unearmarked resources, and on an increase in Member States’ fees to two-thirds of the WHO base programme budget. WHO should establish a new global system for surveillance, based on full transparency by all parties, using state-of-the-art digital tools.

Referring indirectly to the information flow from China to the WHO, the Panel recommends that the World Health Assembly should give “WHO both the explicit authority to publish information about outbreaks with pandemic potential immediately without requiring the prior approval of national governments.”

As a lesson learned from the other report on the source of COVID-19, the Panel recommends that WHO should have the power to investigate pathogens with pandemic potential with short-notice access to relevant sites, provision of samples, and standing multi-entry visas for international epidemic experts to outbreak locations, according to the Panel.

Dr Tedros explained at a press conference on Friday (14 May) that all recommendations will be discussed with the Member States at the World Health Assembly at the end of this month.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Up to 100 km/h winds expected across Belgium on Wednesday night
Gusts of up to 100 km/h are expected across Belgium on Wednesday night, according to the Royal Meteorological Institute (RMI), which has issued a ...
Cycling traffic officially added to VRT’s traffic bulletin
Usually a list of updates for drivers on busy roads, traffic bulletins will now include the latest travel news for cyclists in Belgium, VRT announced ...
MEPs call for European strategy to protect workers from asbestos
Members of the European Parliament are calling on the Commission to create a strategy for removing all abestos from buildings in order to reduce the ...
Mandatory vaccine for carers: employers call for sanctions
In a notice submitted by the National Council for Work (CNT), employers have called for heavy penalties for healthcare workers who refuse to receive ...
Police pension protest blocks several Brussels crossroads
On Wednesday, around 350 police officers expressed their dissatisfaction about the unclear pension scheme, low salaries and politicised police unions ...
Belgium in Brief: A Consultative Committee Sequel
Sequels often have a lot to live up to and when it comes to movie franchises, it gets difficult to keep up the hype once you get towards the final ...
25 years ago today: 300,000 people marched in white against child abuse
On this day 25 years ago, over 300,000 people marched in Brussels to demand a more effective justice system and to support the families of Julie, ...
Windy weather forecast should lower gas prices
After weeks of relatively calm conditions, a return to windy weather should lower Europe's soaring energy prices. Wind turbines in the UK and Germany ...
EC calls on candidate countries to focus on fundamental reforms before they can join the EU
The Commission adopted yesterday its 2021 Enlargement Package, providing a detailed assessment of the state of play and the progress made by the ...
Cigarette-eating robot patrols Ghent streets to fight littering
A litter fighting (and eating) robot will be patrolling the streets of Ghent in the coming weeks in an effort to raise awareness of the growing ...
Display of child’s room in Brussels raises awareness of foster families
An exhibit that features a fictitious child’s bedroom has been on display since Tuesday at the Place d'Armes in Namur, with the support of the ...
Brussels Airport becomes shareholder in SkeyDrone
The Brussels Airport company has signed an agreement to become a 50 percent shareholder in SkeyDrone, a subsidiary of skeyes, the Belgian Air ...