Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Thank you, Chair. Your Excellencies, distinguished delegates. At last year’s World Health Assembly, you tasked the WHO Director-General with initiating an impartial, independent, and comprehensive review of the international health response to COVID-19 which would document experiences gained and lessons learned, and make recommendations to improve capacities for the future. Dr Tedros appointed Prime Minister Clark and me as co-chairs. We have worked hard with the Panel and our dedicated secretariat to produce the report we present today.
As Co-Chairs we want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of the Panel members for their tremendous support to this task and the wisdom and experience they contributed to the report. The Panel has been thorough in its approach in collecting and reviewing the evidence available to it. Throughout our work, we have liaised with other review bodies. We stand by our findings and recommendations, which are solidly grounded in evidence. Our report and the associated defining moments, chronology, and other background papers are available on our website.
We appreciate that, by now, you have all had the chance to review the findings and recommendations. We identified shortcomings at all stages of the response at both the national and international levels. We also identified successes, and we recognize the hard work and sacrifices made – especially by health workers across the world. We have not sought to apportion blame, but rather to identify lessons learned, so that the world can move forward to end the current pandemic and make it the last.
The Right Honourable Helen Clark
Our recommendations come as a complete package, and they flow directly from our findings. We believe that if fully implemented, they can help curb the current pandemic and prevent future outbreaks from becoming pandemics.
Right now, thousands of people continue to die around the world every day from the virus. Even as vaccines are a sign of light at the end of the tunnel, we are currently on track for a two-tier world of those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t. Immediate action therefore is needed on vaccines. The Panel has recommended urgently redistributing existing vaccine doses in an equitable manner. At the same time, we urge removing the barriers to manufacturing scale up by sharing intellectual property and transferring knowledge and technology, and by fully funding ACT-A. The return on investment would be enormous – both for people’s health and for economies.
Even as the all-out effort on equitable vaccination ramps up, the Panel urges all countries to apply proven public health measures which will help curb transmission.
WHO has an indispensable role in responding to global health emergencies. It is and should remain the lead organisation for health in the international system. The quality, timing, and clarity of the technical advice and direction WHO provides to the world are of the utmost importance. For many years, it has been given new tasks without sufficient authority or resources to undertake them fully. It cannot do everything. The Panel recommends that it focus on normative, policy, and technical guidance, including building capacity for pandemic preparedness and response.
This World Health Assembly has the opportunity to empower and further strengthen WHO, including by agreeing to establish its financial independence through the provision of only unearmarked resources; to strengthen the authority and independence of the Director General; and to equip its country offices adequately to do the necessary work. Those are some of the reforms we are recommending that Member States now review and act on.
This pandemic occurred in the context of a lack of high-level co-ordinated political engagement at global and national level – pandemic preparedness simply has not had enough attention. That is why the Panel has proposed a Global Health Threats Council to be constituted at Head of State and Government level, with also private sector and civil society participation.
The Council’s role would be to maintain political commitment to pandemic preparedness on an ongoing basis, promote the maximum co-operation and collective action across the international system, monitor progress towards the goals and targets set by WHO, hold actors accountable, and guide the allocation of resources from a new financing facility.
We propose that the new financing facility provide reliable, long-term, annual financing for preparedness, and be able to deliver rapid surge financing for the early stages of response. The resources should fill gaps in funding for global public goods at national, regional, and global level. Examples would be surveillance activities, genomic sequencing capabilities, and, in the event of a major outbreak, diagnostic and therapeutic investments. The suggestion is not to create a new global fund, but rather a modality for raising additional resources to be disbursed through existing structures.
Alongside that, adequate capacities, organisation, and financing for preparedness must be put in place at the national and subnational levels so that countries do not repeat the devastating experience of not being ready.
The Panel recommends a revamped global surveillance and alert system, which empowers WHO to report on and investigate threats without delays or awaiting Member State approval.
We recommend transforming the current ACT-A from its market-based model for vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics into a model aimed at delivering global public goods.
We support the negotiation of a Pandemic Framework Convention under Article 19 of the WHO Constitution to address gaps in the current legal framework, clarify responsibilities between states and international organisations, and reinforce legal obligations and norms.
Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Delegates of the World Health Assembly, you called for the review of the international health response to COVID-19 through Resolution 73.1. Despite finding ourselves still in the midst of the current crisis, the Independent Panel has done its utmost to document the evidence and lessons learned, and provide you with a road map for the future.
We have seen previous reports of other reviews like ours ignored and left to gather dust. The consequence of that is the situation we find ourselves in today – a novel respiratory pathogen emerged, the world was not prepared, and the virus continues to destroy lives and livelihoods around the globe almost 18 months later.
Now is the time for concrete political action. You here at the World Health Assembly have the power to drive many of those necessary actions internationally, and domestically in your vital work as health ministers.
But we need you to engage your colleagues in government – especially Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Prime Ministers, and Presidents. We cannot waste the current moment. We need meaningful action now at the G7, the G20, and at meetings of the governing bodies of the Regional and International Financial Institutions.
Heads of State and Governments need to come together to agree on a political declaration which lays out the roadmap for transformation of the present international system for pandemic preparedness and response. The objective must be to ensure that this is the last pandemic to cause death and destruction on the scale we are witnessing today. The Panel recommends that a UN General Assembly Special Session should take place before the end of this year to agree on that political declaration.
COVID-19 – Make it the Last Pandemic.