The Independent Panel Urges Equitable Approach to Tackling COVID-19 and Moves Towards Recommendations for Future Pandemic Preparedness and Response

4th Panel meeting discusses WHO, the international system, and how to address the pandemic’s toll on health services and supplies

GENEVA –11 February 2021   

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has underscored the imperative of maintaining proven public health measures against COVID-19, particularly as new variants emerge.  

“The pandemic continues its twists and turns, and will likely have more surprises in store,” said Co-Chair Helen Clark at the opening of the Panel’s fourth meeting. “Countries and citizens alike must use all possible means to try to stop the spread of COVID-19, protect health, save lives, and preserve fraying health systems.”

Co-Chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned that the continued spread of COVID-19 is impacting communities differently across regions, ethnicities, gender, socio-economic status, and other factors.

“Frontline workers are daily in harm’s way, yet many are not yet receiving the support they need,” said Co-Chair Sirleaf.

“The rapid spread of variants of the virus across multiple geographies definitively proves that ending this pandemic requires global vaccination. More than 134 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered world-wide, but sub-Saharan Africa is being left behind. Yet we are all in this together as one planet, one community. Ubuntu:  What happens to one, poor or rich, strong or weak, happens to all,” Co-Chair Sirleaf said.

The Panel met virtually for its fourth meeting on February 9 and 10 2021.

Panel moving towards evidence-based recommendations for global reset

Since its first meeting last September, the Independent Panel’s work has been informed by hundreds of documents, expert consultations across many sectors, case studies, submissions received by the Panel from Member States, civil society, academics and citizens, town hall meetings, and dozens of interviews with those on the frontlines of pandemic preparedness and response.

In their opening remarks at the fourth meeting, the Co-Chairs noted that the Panel is well advanced in its investigation and analysis and will soon begin to formulate recommendations aimed at ensuring that the world is better prepared for future global health threats.

Co-Chair Clark said that the recent Progress Report issued by the Panel “made it clear that we are independent, unafraid of airing uncomfortable truths, and determined to help drive improvements in pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response,” and that “we have a duty to continue to issue carefully thought through positions which are based on evidence.”

The Panel’s recommendations will propose ways in which the international community – from the global to the national and community levels – can implement changes to better prepare for, detect, sound the alarm on, and respond to future pathogens with pandemic potential.

As the Panel prepares its recommendations for its report in May, it will also continue to gather evidence and hear from experts and those on the frontlines, including through its series of town-hall Exchanges.

WHO, the international system and impact on health and health systems 

At its fourth meeting, the Panel continued to discuss areas of its Program of Work.  Panel members considered what an ‘ideal’ system for pandemic preparedness and response might look like, the functions required of it, and the gaps existing in it today.

Panel members reviewed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) role and performance during the COVID-19 pandemic, and issues concerning its mandate and functions, organizational capacity, governance and financing, and the Director-General’s authority.

In its January Progress Report, the Panel made it clear that while the world was more reliant on an effective WHO than ever before, it has been kept under-powered and under-resourced to do the job expected of it.

The Panel also considered analyses of the severe health impact of the pandemic on health workers and on people who are vulnerable, including elderly populations. It notes that the pandemic led to essential health service disruptions in at least 90 per cent of countries that reported to the WHO.

The shortages of essential supplies, particularly in the earlier stages of the pandemic, including of personal protective equipment, testing kits, oxygen and ventilators, have been of great concern. The Panel examined reasons for these shortages and discussed remedies to avoid these in future.

The Panel discussed current challenges, including the inequitable allocation and distribution of vaccines, and is examining aspects of the vaccine value-chain, including governance and co-ordination, research and development, manufacturing, procurement, allocation, and distribution.  

The Panel’s Next Steps

The Panel continues to hear from people on the frontlines of COVID-19, including in a townhall style “Exchange” with midwives today, and in similar dialogues will hear perspectives on gender, communication of information relevant to pandemic preparedness and response, community engagement, and will hear from community health workers. 

The Independent Panel is scheduled to meet next on March 16-17, 2021.  It will issue its report in May and present it to the 74th World Health Assembly which is scheduled to begin on 24 May 2021. 

Background for Editors

The Independent Panel was established by the WHO’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.

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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