The Independent Panel Analysing Timeline of Pandemic, WHO Recommendations

Concerned about inequities including vaccine access

GENEVA – 18 December 2020 

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response is now well advanced on preparing an authoritative chronology of the spread of COVID-19 around the world, and the global and national responses to that spread. 

“The Independent Panel has been very hard at work, collating information from a range of sources, consulting widely, and building its evidence base,” said Helen Clark, the Co-Chair of the Panel.

During the third meeting of the independent Panel on 16-17 December, panelists reviewed a draft timeline running from the early signals of the new respiratory disease of unknown origin, which became known as COVID-19, the WHO Director-General’s declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and to the accelerating spread of the virus to countries around the world.

The Panel is also reviewing a catalogue of some 900 COVID-19-related response recommendations, including 360 made by WHO headquarters and regional bodies. It is analysing which recommendations had the most bearing on the course of the pandemic and why countries did or did not follow alerts from, and recommendations made by the international system.

These are among the many questions the Panel is asking as it interviews experts and stakeholders, including local health workers and leaders who have served on the frontlines of the pandemic response. 

Concerns about inequities

The Panel notes with concern the ongoing momentum of the pandemic. Co-Chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf underscored that COVID-19 would likely be the most lethal infectious disease of 2020, already having led to the deaths of more than 1.5 million people.  

President Sirleaf heralded the introduction of new vaccines as “remarkable and a major scientific feat,” but cautioned about the inequitable deployment, with projections that vaccines will not reach low-income countries for some time.

“Let us not keep repeating the mistakes of history. Tools to fight pandemics must be considered global public goods, accessible to poor and rich alike. Unequal distribution is not only unjust; it will prolong this pandemic. No one is safe until we are all safe.” President Sirleaf warned. 

“We on this Panel have the opportunity to recommend ways to put these inequities to an end. It is unfortunate that it takes a pandemic to offer this chance, but we must use it well.”  

The impact on health systems and health workers

The Panel reviewed the impact COVID-19 has had on health systems, including on primary health services, the global supply chain for equipment including oxygen and ventilators; and on the ecosystem for developing and delivering vaccines, diagnostics and therapies.

The importance of supporting and sustaining the health workforce was also stressed.  Panel Co-Chair Helen Clark  highlighted messages she had heard earlier in the week from nurses during an Independent Panel Exchange town hall event.

Co-Chair Clark noted that: “The International Council of Nurses says that their members are reporting that many nurses are just hanging on until the end of the pandemic is in sight, and that then they plan to leave, exhausted. This could point to significant retention problems for the profession, which is already estimated to be facing a 6-million-person shortfall.”

The Panel’s next steps

The Panel will continue its work to gather evidence across its Program of Work, including on the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, the infodemic, and the engagement of, communication with, and impact on communities. The Panel is also examining lessons learned from previous infectious disease epidemics, including SARS and Ebola, the recommendations emerging from reviews of the global health system’s responses to those events, and the extent of their implementation.

The authoritative chronology of what has happened will be expanded and finalised, joining-up a timeline of known COVID-19 cases, key scientific developments in understanding more about the virus, the alerts and recommendations of WHO and others, and national responses. 

The Panel continues its effort to review the response by WHO and the international system to the pandemic, and the degree to which the status quo arrangements are fit to prepare for and respond to a future global health threat.

The Independent Panel will provide a report on its progress to the WHO Executive Board which is scheduled to meet from 18-26 January 2021, and will report to the 74th World Health Assembly in May 2021. 

Background for Editors

The Independent Panel was established by the World Health Organization’s Director-General in response to World Health Assembly resolution 73.1. 

Its mandate is to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international response to COVID-19.  The Independent Panel comprises thirteen members, including Co-Chairs the Rt Hon. Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia.  

The mission of the Independent Panel is to provide an evidence-based path for the future, grounded in lessons of the present and the past to ensure countries and global institutions, including specifically WHO, effectively address health threats.

The Independent Panel will establish facts about global and country responses to COVID-19, distill lessons learned, and will make recommendations for how the world can be better prepared to respond both to the current pandemic, and to future global health threats.

The Panel is following a Program of Work, established based on its Terms of Reference.

The next Panel meeting is scheduled for 9-10 February 2020.

For more information:

See the Independent Panel’s website:  Media and other stakeholders interested in continued updates on the Independent Panel can join the mailing list from the website. 

Media enquiries can be directed to Christine McNab, Independent Panel Communication Lead; and at +1 416 986 2068 (residing in Toronto, Canada).

Enquiries to the Secretariat:

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