The scale of COVID-19, which has so far infected 150 million people and caused over 3 million deaths, could have been prevented had a proper global response been in place, according to an independent panel of experts backed by the World Health Organisation.
In a report published by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, a “combination of poor strategic choices, unwillingness to tackle inequalities and an uncoordinated system” — at both a country and international level — was blamed for the “preventable disaster” that is COVID-19.
Panel co-chair and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said extensive reform was urgently needed.
“Our message is simple and clear: the current system failed to protect us from the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in a media release. “If we do not act to change it now, it will not protect us from the next pandemic threat, which could happen at any time.”
Among the failings was the length of time between the first few clusters of cases of pneumonia with an unknown origin occurring in mid-December of 2019 to the World Health Organisation declaring a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) on Jan. 30.
Emphasis was also placed on the fact that the virus moved faster than surveillance and alert systems.
Most nations likewise failed to implement a “forceful and immediate emergency response” in the days after the virus was declared a PHEIC.
Check out recommendations of @TheIndPanel on #Pandemic Preparedness & Response on curbing #COVID-19 pandemic & putting in place the measures required to stop a future such catastrophe. Those who don't learn history's lessons are doomed to repeat them: https://t.co/UKKTtRQw1O— Helen Clark (@HelenClarkNZ) May 12, 2021
As the pandemic raged on and vaccines first became available, the panel highlighted the issue of vaccine nationalism.
"As of now, a number of high-income countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, across the European Union, and the United States, have been able to secure vaccine doses that would be enough to cover 200% of their populations,” the report said. “The immediate issue is how to reach a political agreement for sharing and redistributing available doses of vaccine, and committed doses to come, based on what is best from a global public health perspective with equity at the center.”
The speed of vaccine development, and that wealth is not always a predictor of how successfully a country will respond to COVID-19, were among the wins.
The panel has made a series of recommendations to prevent a pandemic of this scale from occurring again.
The establishment of a Global Health Threats Council is key, they said, as is bold reform of the World Health Organisation.
Governments must also update their national preparedness plans, new international alert systems should be put in place, and the ACT-Accelerator needs to transform into a truly global platform.
Rich countries have also been asked to donate one billion vaccines to developing nations by September.
“If we do not act to change it now, it will not protect us from the next pandemic threat, which could happen at any time,” Sirleaf said.