‘Woefully unprepared’: World lacks capacity to end pandemic, warns WHO panel

London: The global body established by the World Bank and the World Health Organisation in 2018 to prepare for pandemics says that the world does not have the capacity to end the current pandemic or prevent the next one.

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, which was set up after the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said in a new report that a new global contract on health must be set up immediately because the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a “broken world” where vaccines are distributed on wealth rather than on a needs basis. Medical staff prepare a coffin for a body of a patient who died of coronavirus at the morgue of the city hospital 1 in Rivne, Ukraine.CREDIT:AP

It said countries participating in the voluntary cooperation scheme had been unable to identify, assess and share health risks with speed, and deploy medical countermeasures based on needs and “not the ability to pay”.

It listed the political, financial and structural weaknesses of the WHO as another key deficiency in the global response to the coronavirus outbreak first detected in Wuhan, China. More than 244 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 5 million deaths have been recorded since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Chairman Elhadj As Sy, a former boss of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said it was the board’s view that the world remained “woefully unprepared” for addressing the problems.

“COVID-19 has exposed a broken world — one in which access to countermeasures depends on ability to pay rather than need; where governments, leaders, and institutions are too often unaccountable to their populations; and in which societies are becoming increasingly fragmented, nationalism is growing, and geopolitical tensions are rising,” the report said.

“This broken world failed to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic and responded inadequately and inequitably once it began.

“Unless we can repair these ruptures, the response to the next pandemic is unlikely to be any better.

“It has neither the capacity to end the current pandemic in the near future nor to prevent the next one,” the report said.

The board set out a blueprint for what the international community must do in the next two months to fix its response to this pandemic and better cope with the next.

These include getting WHO member states to agree at next month’s special session of the World Health Assembly to adopt an international agreement to set up the process for negotiating the new global compact.

This would be triggered by convening world leaders at a special UN General Assembly.

Other recommendations include significantly raising funding for the WHO so it can act with “greater resources, authority and accountability” and member states creating a body to coordinate research, development and a way of ensuring fair access for all countries to common goods like vaccine technology.

It said the International Health Regulations needed strengthening to include interim triggers that would release guidance on travel restrictions, trade blockades and the delivery of funding to countries battling to contain outbreaks of new diseases and stop them spreading to the rest of the world.

It also said the WHO needed to be empowered to make nations comply with the regulations.

While two thirds of high-income countries have reached WHO’s target of vaccinating at least 40 per cent of their populations by the end of 2021 not a single low-income country has met the goal of vaccinating at least 10 per cent of its population by the end of September.

The board said that with the world’s attention already “beginning to drift” from the pandemic to other issues, the brief window to make meaningful change was closing fast.

It called on the private sector, including the pharmaceutical industry, to prioritise common good over profits during global health emergencies.

Pfizer which produces the mRNA vaccine preferred by Australians compared to the not-for-profit jab developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, has said it expects to reap $US33.5 billion ($45 billion) in COVID vaccine sales this year alone.—The Sydney Morning Herald

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