The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a collective failure to take pandemic prevention, preparedness and response seriously and prioritize it accordingly, according to a global forum for epidemic preparedness.
The Forum ‘Global Preparedness Monitoring Board’ (GPMB) in its second report ‘A World in Disorder’, released on September 14, said the failure to learn lessons of COVID-19 or to act on them with necessary resources and commitment will mean that the next pandemic, which is sure to come, will be even more damaging.
The GPMB is an independent monitoring and accountability body that works in global health crises.
“It has demonstrated the fragility of highly interconnected economies and social systems, and the fragility of trust. It has exploited and exacerbated the fissures within societies and among nations. It has exploited inequalities, reminding us in no uncertain terms that there is no health security without social security. COVID-19 has taken advantage of a world in disorder,” said Gro Harlem Brundtland, Co-Chair Former Prime Minister, Norway, and Former Director- General, World Health Organization and Elhadj As Sy, co-Chair, Kofi Annan Foundation Board and Former Secretary-General International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The GPMB had in 2019 warned that the world was unprepared for the very real likelihood of a deadly pandemic spreading around the globe, killing millions of people, disrupting economies, and destabilizing national security. The GPMB said in their first report that pathogens thrive in disruption and disorder and COVID-19 has proven the point. “Where sufficient resources, cooperation, and organization were applied, it was slowed. Where disarray, division and poverty reign, it has thrived,” the Forum said.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM COVID-19
The GPMB said in the report that Covid-19 pandemic has shown that emergency response was not a choice between protecting people and protecting the economy. Public health action is the quickest way to end the threat and return to productivity and security, the report said.
Another lesson that the pandemic has taught is that citizens can protect one another and demonstrate social and moral responsibility by acting in the best interests of all. In addition to its immediate death toll, COVID-19 will be remembered for its rapid global spread and devastating social and economic impact, especially for the vulnerable and disadvantaged, the GPMB said. “It has demonstrated the importance of protecting lives and livelihoods, and widening our understanding of preparedness to make education, social and economic sectors “pandemic proof,” the report noted.
The ‘A World in Disorder’ says that the present measures of preparedness are not predictive and understanding of the pandemic preparedness was inadequate.
CALL TO ACTION
In the report, the GPMB has called for urgent actions to strengthen the present response to COVID-19 and better prepare the world for future pandemics and health emergencies.
- National leaders and leaders of international organizations and other stakeholders should take early decisive action based on science, evidence and best practice when confronted with health emergencies. They should discourage the politicization of measures to protect public health, ensure social protection and promote national unity and global solidarity.
- A national high-level coordinator with the authority and political accountability should be appointed to lead whole-of government and whole-of-society approaches, and routinely conduct multi-sectoral simulation exercises to establish and maintain effective preparedness.
- National leaders, manufacturers and international organizations should ensure that COVID-19 vaccines and other countermeasures are allocated in a way that will have the most impact in stopping the pandemic, that access is fair and equitable, and not based on ability to pay, with healthcare workers and the most vulnerable having priority access. Each country should get an initial allocation of vaccine sufficient to cover at least two per cent of its population.
- The governments should empower their citizens and strengthen civil society.
- Every individual should take the responsibility for seeking and using accurate information to educate themselves, their families and their communities. They should adopt health promoting behaviours and take actions to protect the most vulnerable.
Strong and agile national and global systems
- The national systems should be strengthened for preparedness, identifying, predicting and detecting the emergence of pathogens with pandemic potential based on a ‘One Health’ approach that integrates animal and human health. The governments should build core public health capacities and workforce for surveillance, early detection and sharing of information on outbreaks and similar events; strengthening health systems based on universal health coverage with surge capacity for clinical and supportive services. A System of social protection should be in order to safeguard the vulnerable
- Researchers, research institutions, private sector, governments, World Health Organization and international organizations should improve coordination and support for research and development in health emergencies and establish a sustainable mechanism to ensure rapid development, early availability, effective and equitable access to novel vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and non-pharmaceutical interventions for health emergencies, including capacity for testing, scaled manufacturing and distribution.
- The government should renew their commitment to the multilateral system and strengthen WHO as an impartial and independent international organization, responsible for directing and coordinating pandemic preparedness and response.
Sustained investment in prevention and preparedness
- G20 leaders should make sure that adequate finance is made available to mitigate the current and future economic and socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic. The governments should protect and sustain the financing of their national capacities for health emergency preparedness and response developed for COVID-19, beyond the current pandemic.
- The United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Financing Institutions should develop a mechanism for sustainable financing of global health security
- The World Bank and other International Financial Institutions (IFI) make research and development investments eligible for IFI financing and develop mechanisms to provide financing for global R&D for health emergencies.
Global governance of preparedness for health emergencies
- Amendments should be brought to the International Health Regulations (IHR) to include strengthening early notification and comprehensive information sharing, intermediate grading of health emergencies, development of evidence based recommendations on the role of domestic and international travel and trade recommendations and mechanisms for assessing IHR compliance and core capacity implementation, including a universal, periodic, objective and external review mechanism.
- National leaders, UN, WHO and other international organizations should develop predictive mechanisms for assessing multi-sectoral preparedness, including simulations and exercises that test and demonstrate the capacity and agility of health emergency preparedness systems, and their functioning within societies.
- A UN Summit on Global Health Security should be called with the aim of agreeing on an international framework for health emergency preparedness and response, incorporating the IHR, and including mechanisms for sustainable financing, research and development, social protection, equitable access to countermeasures for all, and mutual accountability.