Rt Hon Helen Clark: Remarks to intergovernmental roundtable on global health security financing & political leadership

On the 17th of August 2021, the governments of the United States of America and Norway convened an intergovernmental roundtable. These host countries invited Co-Chair Helen Clark to share remarks on the Independent Panel’s findings and recommendations in regards to the need for of political leadership in pandemic preparedness and response, including background on the Independent Panel’s proposal for a Global Health Threats Council.

Thank you to colleagues from the US and Norway for convening us.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response which I co-chaired recommended the establishment of a Global Health Threats Council as a centre piece of reform of the global architecture for pandemic preparedness and response.

It concluded that there had been a leadership deficit at that level historically and during the current pandemic.

Our Panellists strongly advocate that a Council constituted at the highest leadership level should have oversight of the readiness of the international system and community to prepare for and respond to pandemic threats, and that it should hold all relevant actors to account for that.

We noted that the most effective responses at the national level were where there was effective leadership overseeing whole-of-government co-ordination and whole of society engagement. The global level deserves no less.

Our design of the Council gave it the following functions:

  • to maintain global political commitment to pandemic preparedness between emergencies and to response during emergencies – we are all too well aware that high early commitment to action can wane when the moment of crisis has passed.
  • to monitor progress towards clear and measurable pandemic preparedness and response goals and targets which should be set by the World Health Organization,
  • to draw attention to gaps in preparedness and response mechanisms through high-level advocacy, and
  • to hold all relevant actors, not least the international organisations, accountable for playing their part in improving global preparedness and response.
  • We also recommended that the Council should guide the allocation of resources from a dedicated financing facility.

The Panel recommended that the Council’s membership should be at the level of Heads of State and Government drawn from across regions, and that the private sector and civil society should also be represented. 

The Council would be informed by:

  • universal periodic peer reviews of national pandemic preparedness and response capacities – a system which WHO has been piloting, and by 
  • regular pandemic preparedness assessments and evaluations of economic policy response plans. We recommend that the IMF should do these, building on its Article IV processes. This also has the virtue of engaging Finance Ministers and Ministries with the importance of national preparedness and response planning.

The UN Secretary-General, the Executive Director of the IMF, the President of the World Bank Group, and the Director-General of the World Health Organisation would be key interlocutors with the Council. 

The Council would seek to galvanise global efforts in support of the work of the international organisations; it would not have directive authority over them, and it would not take on operational functions.

The Panel debated at length how to establish such a council to ensure its legitimacy, inclusiveness, and effectiveness. Our conclusion was that UN General Assembly is the most appropriate body to propose such a Council. Recognising the significance of the G20, we proposed that it should nominate one of the three Council Co-Chairs to ensure that are links to G20 deliberations.

Since delivering our report, we have seen expressions of support and interest from around the world for the concept of a global monitoring and oversight council, including, importantly from the G7 which committed to exploring “options to strengthen global accountability, tracking, and allocation of global health security financing, including the Independent Panel’s recommendation towards a Global Health Threats Council”.

We sense therefore that there is broad appreciation of the need for both enhanced leadership and dedicated financing to avert pandemic threats. 

But, trying to drive change through financing alone won’t get to the nub of the problem identified by our Panel: that there was a leadership vacuum at the global level. 

Conversely, a new governance mechanism without financing would lack teeth and risk becoming a mere talk shop. 

So, the issue is how the needs for enhanced leadership and stepped-up financing can both be met, and reinforce one another.

This moment of crisis must be seized to put in place badly needed reforms. As the old saying goes, never miss the opportunity of a crisis – and this is a profound crisis. I look forward to the reflections and suggestions of colleagues on how we can move forward on a reform agenda.

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