Statement by H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the Rt Hon. Helen Clark

Co-Chairs, The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response

To the 31st Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly
in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
December 3-4, 2020

The world finds itself in the midst of a pandemic that has spread around the globe.   More than 64 million people are confirmed to have been infected, including Heads of State and Government. Almost 1.5 million of our fellow global citizens have died, including loved ones and dear colleagues.  

The world gathers at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly – not in the familiar auditorium, but on a series of disconnected screens, talking into tiny cameras through internet connections that work well for some, and not for others. 

We are living in a pandemic world that was predicted, but not adequately prepared for.  How did we get here?

We on the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, initiated by the WHO Director-General, are working hard to find out. We are here to learn. Through our work, we are learning more each day as we seek to answer key questions.

We are learning how a microscopic virus, which thrives within people, spread to envelop our planet.

We are learning the sequence of events – including how the dynamics of science, public health, and political leadership impacted on outcomes. We are seeking to understand how many countries faced down COVID-19 once, and now find themselves with ever increasing numbers of people infected and more deaths.

We are learning how the lessons of previous pandemics and epidemics – including SARS and Ebola – were variously learned, retained, or forgotten.

We are remembering the very basics of how to avoid being infected:  to keep a distance, to wash our hands, to wear masks, to isolate those infected and to trace those with whom they may have been in contact. We have learned how to test for and diagnose SARS-CoV-2.

We are learning why some health systems remained robust, while others collapsed – leaving nurses, doctors, orderlies, and care workers unprotected and at risk.  We are learning how some governments communicated transparently, involved communities and built trust in a national effort, while others lost trust, and with that a national understanding of how or even whether to fight COVID-19. 

We are impressed by how innovation and research can achieve so much so fast. And we do not hesitate to say that the resulting global goods – particularly diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines – must be equitably shared to rich and poor people alike. Failing this not only leads to injustice, but to an even longer pandemic.

We are carefully studying which interventions and factors lead to a society where both people’s health and economies are protected; and which lead to more illness, death, and economic harm. It is hard to learn about the brutal additional impacts of COVID-19 – on areas of health including immunization and tuberculosis control, on women’s health and wellbeing, mental health, and on migrants and other marginalised populations.

COVID-19 is making poor people poorer, and for that, we are all the worse off. 

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response is also learning about the global institutions charged with guiding the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The pandemic has put the system to the test. The very fact of this virtual Special Session is a sign that the system has faults. We will make recommendations to address them, and we appreciate many countries proposing ideas.

At the UN General Assembly Special Session, the Panel will listen to Heads of State and Government. We will listen to the discussions on the UN system’s health and humanitarian response, the road to a COVID-19 vaccine, the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and on how the world could do better in managing pandemic threats. 

There are rich experiences to share and innovative ideas to consider.  

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