A swift and concerted international response could have prevented the 2019 Covid-19 outbreak in China from becoming a global disaster in 2020, according to a damning report on the response of world leaders and the World Health Organization to the pandemic.
An expert review by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, commissioned by WHO, provides lessons on how to prevent future pandemics and makes dozens of recommendations for reform.
They include a new treaty establishing a Global Health Threats Council, increased oversight power for WHO to investigate and publish information on disease outbreaks without government approval, and new funding for an International Pandemic Financing Facility (IPFF) that will provide $ Could spend 5 billion. – $ 10 billion a year for preparedness and short-term call on $ 50 billion – $ 100 billion in an emergency.
“The panel recommends a fundamental transformation designed to ensure commitment at the highest level to a new system. . . on which citizens can rely to keep them safe and sound, ”said the Co-Presidents, former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The review does not address the origin of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. But it criticizes the Chinese authorities and the WHO for being too slow to recognize that the virus was spreading between people in Wuhan and then warning the world of human-to-human transmission.
“Going forward, a precautionary approach must be taken from the outset, recognizing that a respiratory disease can spread from person to person unless and until otherwise identified,” the report said.
The panel is scathing about the International Health Regulations, the only legally binding instrument for disease outbreaks. “As currently constructed [they] serve to restrict rather than facilitate rapid action, ”the report said. “With regard to travel, it is difficult to see that the IHR’s discouragement from restrictions is realistic for pandemics in our highly interconnected age.”
“If travel restrictions had been imposed more quickly and more widely, it would have severely slowed the virus’s rapid transmission,” Clark told a press conference ahead of the publication of the review. “We have to realize that we live in the 21st century and not the Middle Ages.”
The panel criticizes WHO for not declaring Covid a public health emergency of international concern until January 30. On March 11, it was officially called a pandemic.
But the strongest criticism was directed against the wealthy countries of Europe and North America for ‘wasting February 2020’ doing nothing – leading to ‘a lost month when many more countries could have taken steps to prevent the spread of Sars- Cov-2 to contain and prevent the global health, social and economic disaster that is gripping ”.
When the severity of the crisis was finally recognized in March 2020, “there was a crazy battle over personal protective equipment, therapies and other equipment,” Clark said. “This was exacerbated by a lack of global leadership.”
To provide leadership in the future, the panel is calling on world government leaders to establish a Global Health Threats Council and a Pandemic Framework Convention to provide a stronger legal basis for action. It recommends that these be launched at a global summit, a special session of the United Nations General Assembly to be convened for this purpose later this year.
The council would allocate funds from the IPFF to institutions developing preparedness and response capabilities, including a global platform capable of delivering vaccines, diagnostics, drugs and supplies “quickly and fairly globally – shifting from a market model to a model focused on delivering global public goods ”. The facility should be ready to pay out up to $ 100 billion at short notice in the event of another pandemic, the panel said.
The review also calls for strengthening the authority and funding of WHO. This implies an increase in the fees paid by the Member States; “Depoliticise recruitment (especially at higher levels) by meeting criteria of merit and relevant competences”; improving the performance of the board – which the panel says did not perform as an executive during the pandemic – and appointing a director general with a single seven-year term in place of the current renewable five-year terms .
Panelists talk to government leaders to make sure the measures are implemented. “The shelves of storage areas in the UN and national capitals are full of reports and reviews of past health crises,” Sirleaf said. Had their warnings been heeded, we would have avoided the catastrophe we find ourselves in today. This time must be different. “