‘Protect the world from pandemic threats’

GLOBAL leaders have been urged to commit to transformative reforms to protect the world from pandemic threats.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and former Co-Chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response said the commitment is crucial as the current system for pandemic preparedness and response remains fatally broken.

“Covid-19 has led to deaths of some 20 million people, causing long-lasting physical and mental health impacts. It also battered health workers and systems; slowed and reversed the gains made on the Sustainable Development Goals, have led to multiple trillions in economic losses, and weakened social cohesion in many countries…recovery will take years, especially for lower-income countries, alongside now having permanent costs associated with managing a now endemic disease, ” she said.

She warned that patchy and limited implementation of recommendations from previous reports reviewing major outbreaks, including Ebola in West Africa in 2014-2016, left gaps and contributed directly to the Covid-19 outbreak becoming a pandemic.

In a report titled ‘A Road Map for a World Protected from Pandemic Threats’, Ms Sirleaf together with Ms Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Co-Chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, warn that  global efforts to ensure pandemic readiness and response enter a critical new phase.

They made the call in a statement on end of Covid-19 as a public health emergency of international concern.

They said the UN General Assembly (UNGA) should commit to reforms that leave no gaps through which a pandemic threat can again overwhelm countries and kill millions of people.

According to the two leaders, for emergencies, at least US dollars 50 to 100 billion must be made available immediately when a pandemic materialises to support low-and middle-income countries, to avert catastrophic economic and social consequences, and ensure purchase of pandemic supplies.

The political declaration can commit to a mechanism to mobilise these funds.

“Covid-19 caused complex and devastating shocks to every country, and has long-term impacts for economic and social recovery. Let us never repeat it,” they stated.

Pandemic threats are complex global crises with impacts extending well beyond the health sector. They are economic, social, and security matters. The gap in high-level coordinated   leadership was one of the major failures that led to the catastrophic multi-sectoral impacts of Covid-19.

Therefore, former Independent Panel members and many others, continue to call for an independent high-level global health threats Council, comprised of Heads of States and Government, to ensure sustained multi-sectoral focus on pandemic preparedness and response. The cycle of panic and neglect must be broken for good.

The statement said leaders must seize the opportunity at the UN General Assembly High-level Meeting on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response to be held on September 20th, this year to demonstrate the power of multilateralism and political leadership, and choose human collaboration to overcome the threat of pathogens that could materialise anywhere, anytime.

It said a transformed system must rapidly identify and contain pandemic threats, and if that is not possible, be able to respond quickly and effectively to give maximum protection to societies and economies.

To promote accountability, a fully independent, multi-sectoral expert monitoring board should be established complementary to the new international legal instrument. This monitoring board would collect and analyse information from multiple sources, and regularly publish public reports.

An equitable, operational ecosystem for pandemic countermeasures that is truly ‘end to end’ to serve public health goals, should be based on a global commons model, regional resilience, openness, and technology sharing. It must begin with regional research and development of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies that can stop outbreaks when and where they occur.

For preparedness, it is estimated that US dollars 10.5 billion is required annually for low-and middle-income countries. So far about 10 per cent of that amount has been committed to the Pandemic Fund.  A financing plan for the Fund is essential, and should include serious consideration of a global public investment model.

Other funding sources must also be rallied, including the regional banks, commitment to the “Bridgetown Agenda” and the Africa Epidemics Fund.  Mobilisation of most of these funds is a national responsibility, but there are gaps that must be filled particularly to support low-and middle-income countries.

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