Remarks of the Co-Chairs to a Media Briefing Naming the Panel Members

Remarks of:

Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and Nobel Laureate

Rt. Hon Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand

To a Media Briefing held virtually on 3 September 2020 at 1400 CET following this news release.
You can also watch the 30 minute briefing video.

Panelists named to join the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response

Remarks of Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,
former President of Liberia and Nobel Laureate

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, from Monrovia, Liberia.

It’s a pleasure to be here today, joining media from around the world. We appreciate your interest.  

And, it’s a great pleasure to co-Chair this Independent Panel with Helen Clark. We have worked together before and I think we make a great team. 

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, or, as we will call it for short The Independent Panel, will provide an evidence-based review and recommendations for the future, grounded in lessons from the past and present, with the aim of   supporting countries and global institutions, including WHO, to address health threats effectively. 

In July, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros invited me and Rt Hon Helen Clark to co-chair the Independent Panel.

A very important step for us has been to identify the members of the panel.

We have considered more than 120 names of excellent potential panel members.  We had the very difficult task of narrowing that list to the 11 we are presenting today.

We are very pleased to announce 11 exceptional people, who represent a wealth of experience. Expertise includes that in infectious disease, global and national health policy and financing, outbreaks and emergencies, economics, the wellbeing and education of women and girls; d, in investigating some of the first known clusters of COVID-19.  

This is a strong panel, poised to ask the hard questions.

We look forward to a period of intense work together at a key moment in history. We must honour the more than 25.6 million people known to have contracted the disease, and the 850,000, and counting, who have died from COVID-19.

Our first meeting is scheduled for September 17th.

Some comments on the Panel’s work. We are to carry out an impartial, independent, and comprehensive evaluation of the WHO-co-ordinated international health response to COVID-19, as per the resolution passed at the last World Health Assembly.

We will review the experience gained and lessons learned in various areas, including, as the resolution outlines: 

  • the effectiveness of the mechanisms at WHO’s disposal
  • the functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) and the status of implementation of the relevant recommendations of previous IHR Review Committees;
  • WHO’s contribution to United Nations-wide efforts; and the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic 

The Independent Panel will make recommendations on how to improve capacity for global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, including through strengthening, as appropriate, the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

The Independent Panel takes the terms “impartial and independent” in its mandate seriously.

Panelists are expected to draw from their considerable expertise and experiences. They do not represent their institutions or governments.

I now invite Helen Clark to talk more about the panel.  

Remarks of Rt Hon Helen Clark,
former Prime Minister of New Zealand

Thank you, President Sirleaf.  

I begin by expressing my appreciation to our panel members for accepting our invitation to serve. Like my Co-Chair President Sirleaf, I have both chaired and been part of several other international panels and boards. This Panel has wide expertise and skills – as is appropriate when considering the broad impact and consequences of the pandemic.

I am now very pleased to share with you the Panel members, in alphabetical order.

Mauricio Cárdenas, an economist and former Finance Minister of Colombia.

Aya Chebbi, youth leader, feminist and democracy activist from Tunisia, and the African Union Youth Envoy.

Mark Dybul from the USA, Professor at Georgetown University and former head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and of PEPFAR.

Michel Kazatchkine, Professor and global health diplomat from France; and also a former head of the Global Fund.

Joanne Liu, a Canadian physician, who formerly led Médecins Sans Frontières, including during the Ebola response.

Precious Matsoso, former Director General of Health from South Africa, and former Chair of the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Emergencies Programme.

David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, and former Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom. 

Thoraya Obaid, Former Executive Director of UNFPA, from Saudi Arabia.

Preeti Sudan, Former Secretary of Health of India, and former Vice Chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Ernesto Zedillo, Economist, Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, Yale University, Former President of Mexico.

And finally,

Zhong Nanshan, Professor of Pulmonology from China, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Thoracic Disease.

I am thrilled that each of the panelists has agreed to serve and we thank them for that.

Even nine months ago, we had not heard of COVID-19. We entered 2020 with optimism. Within weeks, the enormity of the challenge posed by the virus became apparent. It quickly spread around the world, causing a global health emergency more acute than any other in the past century. 

The ruptures to families and communities worldwide are painful and severe. There are job and livelihood losses, massive economic uncertainties, risks to food supplies, threats to the safety of women and girls, and interruption of access to health services including immunization, cancer and HIV treatments and vital surgeries.

We are seeing ruptures to social cohesion. The poorest and most marginalised people, communities, and countries are suffering badly from the disruption brought by COVID-19. This pandemic is exacerbating existing inequalities.

Our review is being done against this background of the ongoing and wide-ranging consequences of the pandemic. The composition of the panel reflects the need to address this complexity.

The Independent Panel will review a series of broad themes. This includes the early phase of the pandemic – its emergence and global spread.

When and how did COVID-19 emerge?

Despite many warnings – for years now – that such a pandemic was a significant risk, why was the world caught off guard? 

We’ll learn more about ongoing efforts to contain the transmission of the virus. In places which have done well in that respect, we’ll ask what evidence and decisions made the difference? In places that have suffered greatly, we would like to know what decisions people would like to have made, but couldn’t, perhaps for lack of information, services, or funding?

For decision-makers, we ask what kept them awake at night, and what actions made them sleep a little better?

We’ll explore the impact on people’s health and health systems. Why were certain groups – namely the poorest people, people of colour, and the elderly more affected than others?

For those who were managing an emergency ward, what made the biggest difference to their patients? What more did they need? What could they just not do?

For those collaborating globally, what have they learned about how collaboration accelerates progress? 

We’ll also learn more about the importance of communication and the ‘infodemic.’ Why did some messages get through when others failed? Why did so many false messages reach people, and, why did people believe them?

We will ask with the benefit of hindsight how WHO and national governments could have worked differently knowing what we now know about the disease.  Are there lessons to be learned in order not to repeat the experience of this pandemic?

To answer these questions, we will look for feedback from a broad range of stakeholders including from the WHO itself, Member States, health experts, economists, specialists on the social impacts of the pandemic, and from civil society and the private sector. We will also find ways to hear from the general public. 

We will decide how best to gather information and consult widely at our first meeting on 17 September.

The Panel has a big job to do, and there is no time to waste.


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