Health, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

COVID pandemic was preventable, independent panel set up by WHO finds

'Pandemic could have been declared Public Health Emergency of International Concern earlier,' says panel

Peter Kenny   | 12.05.2021
COVID pandemic was preventable, independent panel set up by WHO finds

GENEVA

The COVID-19 pandemic could have been averted and could have been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern sooner than it was, an independent panel investigating the global pandemic said Wednesday.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response called on the global community to take stronger action to end the COVID-19 pandemic and adopt reforms to prevent the next crisis.

"It is a disaster which our panel believes could have been averted," said co-chair Helen Clark, also the former prime minister of New Zealand.

"Following the eventual declaration on January 30 (2020), the panel sees February as a month of lost opportunity to avert a pandemic, as so many countries choose to wait and see, rather than take firmer measures to contain the virus."

Clark said: "We need to invest in preparedness and response to empower it, asking the rhetorical question, "does the world want to go through this again?"

Her co-chair, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia, also said the pandemic could have been averted.

"This should not happen again. Another dangerous pathogen could happen tomorrow. The world should be ready for the next," she said, noting that no individual or nation was responsible.

"We must concentrate on tackling this pandemic and preventing the next."


Preventing next pandemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus had initiated the Independent Panel, and it was announced on July 10, 2020, after a resolution passed at the 73rd World Health Assembly.

Clarke said: "Thousands of people continue to die every day from the virus, and the social and economic damage that's been done is so deep.

"The need to invest in preparedness and response to empower the WHO and to ensure ongoing political commitment to the investments required is now not just some theoretical construct, is a very real need."

The co-chairs said the report demonstrates that the current system — at both national and international levels — was not adequate to protect people from COVID-19.

The time it took from the reporting of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown origin in mid-late December 2019 to a Public Health Emergency of International Concern being declared was too long.

February 2020 was also a lost month when many more countries could have taken steps to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and forestall the global health, the social, and economic catastrophe that continues its grip.

The panel found that the world health system as it stands now is unfit to prevent another novel and highly infectious pathogen, which could emerge at any time, from developing into a pandemic.

Clarke also noted: "It's clear that there is an urgent need to take more action to end suffering from the current COVID-19, (it) must not evolve into a neglected pandemic, which is controlled in wealthy countries, while those with lesser means face border closures and years of waiting to access vaccines."


Make more vaccines

She said the manufacturing of vaccines needs to be scaled up rapidly.

There is also a need for those high-income countries with a vaccine pipeline for adequate coverage of their populations to support now the 92 low and middle-income countries covered by the COVAX facility.

They need at least 1 billion vaccine doses by Sept. 1 and more than 2 billion doses by the middle of next year.

She added: "We propose a new modeling creation of an international pandemic financing facility, which must be able to distribute up to $10 billion a year for preparedness and up to 100 billion in the event of a crisis."

The report says major vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers should convene, under the joint auspices of the WHO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) should agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfer.

"If actions on this doesn't occur within three months, a waiver of intellectual property rights under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights should come into force immediately," the report said.

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