9 May 2023
Good morning. My name is Dr. Joanne Liu.
In September 2014, here at the UN I appealed for a global response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Médecins Sans Frontière’s Ebola Centres were so overwhelmed, we barely could offer end-of-life care.
Help finally came. The UN Secretary-General mobilized a coordinated multi-sectoral response. Presidents and Prime Ministers stepped in. This made the difference.
The big lesson from Ebola: nothing happens without political leadership.
Yet, in 2020, COVID-19 spread across the world. Some 20 million people have died. The global emergency may be over, but as Dr Tedros said last week: COVID is still killing and changing.
I’m here representing the former Co-Chairs of The Independent Panel: Helen Clark and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The Panel spent months studying the COVID response. In order to create a system that works for everyone, one of our recommendations was a UNGA high level meeting and a political declaration.
Why? There are three main reasons.
First, as the UNGA did for Ebola, we need the highest level of political attention on pandemic threats because they are overwhelming, complex, and have multi sectoral impact. A leader-led Global Health Threats Council is essential to sustain global pandemic readiness.
Second, two types of financing are required: one for preparedness and one for emergencies. COVID cost the world trillions. Leaders must commit a fraction of that to protect all countries.
Third: Leaders must solve the problem of how to ensure all countries have access to vaccines, tests and treatments on time, where they are needed – essential to deliver the right to health, save lives, and stop outbreaks.
I know from experience. It is certain that new pandemic threats will emerge. But full-blown pandemics are a political choice. This September, the UNGA has an opportunity to choose to make COVID-19 the last pandemic of such devastation.