WHO launches global pan­demic re­sponse probe; lack of unity hit

Published July 11, 2020, 7:23 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

GENEVA, Switzer­land – The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO), which has faced crit­i­cism over its early han­dling of the coro­n­avirus cri­sis, on Thurs­day launched an in­de­pen­dent re­view into the global re­sponse to the pan­demic.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

An­nounc­ing the as­sessment, which will be pre­sented next May, WHO chief Te­dros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus said it should help the world un­der­stand how to pre­vent such crises in the fu­ture.

The In­de­pen­dent panel for Pan­demic Pre­pared­ness and Re­sponse will be headed by for­mer New Zealand Prime Min­is­ter He­len Clark and for­mer Liberian pres­i­dent Ellen John­son Sir­leaf.

”Through you, the world will un­der­stand the truth of what hap­pened and also the so­lu­tions to build our fu­ture bet­ter as one hu­man­ity,” Te­dros said at the UN agency’s head­quar­ters in Geneva.

At their last as­sem­bly in May, WHO mem­ber states agreed to a res­o­lu­tion tabled by the Euro­pean Union, which called for an ”im­par­tial, in­de­pen­dent and com­pre­hen­sive eval­u­a­tion… to re­view ex­pe­ri­ence gained and lessons learned from the WHO-co­or­di­nated in­ter­na­tional health re­sponse to COVID-19.”

It said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion should probe ”the ac­tions of WHO and their time-lines per­tain­ing to the COVID-19 pan­demic.”

At the time, the WHO was com­ing un­der at­tack from US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who threat­ened to with­draw Washington’s mem­ber­ship, ac­cus­ing the agency of botch­ing its han­dling of the pan­demic and of be­ing a ”pup­pet of China.”

The United States on Tues­day for­mally started its with­drawal from the WHO, mak­ing good on Trump’s threats to de­prive the UN body of its top donor.

Pub­lic health ad­vo­cates and Trump’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents voiced out­rage at the move.

‘This has to stop’

Te­dros hit out at di­vi­sions in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, warn­ing of the con­se­quences.

”Make no mis­take: The great­est threat we face now is not the virus it­self – rather, it’s the lack of lead­er­ship and sol­i­dar­ity at the global and na­tional lev­els,” he said.

”We can­not de­feat this pan­demic as a di­vided world. The virus thrives on di­vi­sion but is thwarted when we unite.”

The new coro­n­avirus pan­demic has claimed more than 550,000 lives world­wide, with nearly 12.1 mil­lion peo­ple in­fected since the out­break emerged in China last De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to an AFP tally on Thurs­day.

”How is it dif­fi­cult for hu­mans to unite to fight a com­mon en­emy that’s killing peo­ple in­dis­crim­i­nately? Te­dros said.

”To­gether is the so­lu­tion, un­less we want to give the ad­van­tage the en­emy, to the virus that has taken the world hostage – and this has to stop.”

Look in the mir­ror

Te­dros said it was time for hon­est re­flec­tion, and stressed it was im­por­tant to re­main vig­i­lant.

”All of us must look in the mir­ror: WHO, ev­ery mem­ber state, all in­volved in the re­sponse. Every­one,” he said.

”We’re in the midst of this bat­tle. The bat­tle of our lives, and we have to do bet­ter, not just now but for the fu­ture. Be­cause these threats will never stop and, in all like­li­hood, they will get worse.”

Clark and Sir­leaf will pick their own panel mem­bers, and will have their own sec­re­tar­iat.

The panel will stage a monthly mis­sion brief­ing to give up­dates on progress.

It will present an in­terim re­port to the next World Health As­sem­bly gath­er­ing in Novem­ber, with its full re­port to fol­low at the May, 2021, WHA.

No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Sir­leaf said: ”I look for­ward to do­ing all we can to re­spond to these chal­lenges that have pre­vented us from be­ing united in mov­ing for­ward, not only to ad­dress the ef­fects of COVID-19 but to en­sure a bet­ter health sys­tem for all na­tions.”

Clark added: ”This as­sign­ment could only be de­scribed as ex­cep­tion­ally chal­leng­ing.”