Remarks delivered by HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to White House COVID-19 Summit

Madam Vice President, distinguished participants, as a Co-Chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, I thank you and President Biden for your decision to host this summit, which I hope will serve as a global rallying cry to put words into action. Covid-19 remains an international disaster, and the burden has fallen particularly on women and girls.

Covid-19 has triggered a significant decline in growth, led to unsustainable debt for emerging economies, and it’s expected to have a staggering $22 trillion impact on the global economy by 2025—the biggest shock in three quarters of a century.

The uncomfortable truth is that it didn’t have to turn out this way. 

As Covid-19 spread, too many countries believed the health emergency would not affect them. We lost weeks in January and February 2020 as countries—including some of the wealthiest—denied the severity of the disease and delayed responding.

Coordinated, global leadership was woefully absent. And global tensions undermined multilateral institutions and cooperative action.

It is clear that the current international system failed to protect us all from this catastrophic pandemic—and it is not fit to prevent another.

The world cannot wait any longer to make the change we need to curb this crisis and avert the next one.

To deal decisively with Covid-19 and prepare for future threats requires comprehensive and sustained political commitment commensurate with the existential threat posed by pandemics.

The impacts of Covid-19 transcend health and require governments and societies to respond as a whole. We recommend that the General Assembly hold a Special Session to approve a political declaration on the reforms required. A central element of that declaration should be the establishment of the Global Health Threats Council led by Heads of State and Government, and representative of the world’s regions. The Council needs to be an inclusive and legitimate voice of authority with the ability to deploy both accountability mechanisms and ensure access to financing for preparedness and response at the national, regional, and global levels.

To build back better, we must also address the persistent inequality in vaccine availability and access. It is not right that the richer countries of the world have vaccinated between 50-80 per cent of their population while the poorer countries have hardly achieved 5 per cent.

We commend the ongoing effort to redistribute surplus vaccines from high income countries to the 92 low-and middle-income countries and the action to address this inequality through technology transfers and voluntary licensing for vaccine manufacturing in countries of the Global South.

The Independent Panel called for an International Pandemic Financing Facility with the capacity to mobilize long-term contributions of 10 billion dollars per year and standing ready to disburse up to 100 billion dollars in the case of a crisis.

The World Health Organization must continue to play a critical leadership role in pandemic preparedness and response. We need a stronger WHO with clear authority and with adequate financing based on earmarked funds rather than voluntary contributions.

Finally, in order to build a robust and resilient global health care system, we must empower the workers on the frontlines. Community health workers have been the hallmark of successful Covid-19 responses.

Community health workers form the largest door-to-door fever surveillance network in the world and the Independent Panel found they are central to the global early warning system to rapidly detect the next pathogen with pandemic potential. Like vaccines, these local public health workers are global public goods.

Madam Vice President and distinguished participants, we have an opportunity today to change the course of this pandemic and prevent the next. Let us meet the challenge.

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