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WHO expert panel recommends ways to prevent next pandemic by recognizing past mistakes

The World Health Organization’s Independent Review Panel reports that the WHO was unable to detect the virus early and respond quickly. The report, titled ‘Covid-19: Make It the Last Pandemic,’ highlights the policies that must be implemented to ensure the world’s health in the future, as well as the World Health Organization’s failures. However, some have criticised the report, which does not blame any nation, including China.

The findings will be discussed by health ministers at the World Health Organization’s annual meeting on May 24. Diplomats say reform efforts at the European Union’s UN agency will take time.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that pandemics can break out at any moment. The organization also calls for the creation of a new global system to respond to them quickly. The WHO review panel said the system should be able to ensure that no virus causes a pandemic as severe as COVID-19.

Delay in response

The panel assesses that the WHO was unable to recognise the disease and take the requisite measures in early 2020. The panel stated that the delay in declaring a state of emergency, the failure to enforce travel restrictions, and countries’ failure to heed warnings had resulted in coronavirus becoming a global catastrophe.

The panel recommends that the WHO should be given more power to address such issues. Investigators must be notified as soon as the new disease is detected, and their results must be published as soon as possible. “It is critical to have an empowered WHO,” panel co-chair and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said.

Co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former president of Liberia, said: “We are calling for a new surveillance and alert system that is based on transparency and allows WHO to publish information immediately.”

“We look forward to working with our member states to discuss the recommendations of this panel and the other committees to build a stronger WHO and a healthier, safer, fairer future for all of us,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said.

Looking back at the early days of Pandemic, in December 2019, Chinese doctors reported rare cases of pneumonia. However, the WHO’s Emergency Committee, which convened on January 22, did not act immediately to declare an international health emergency.

The committee, which operates under the WHO’s International Health Regulations, also refused to enforce international travel restrictions. If this was done, the virus’s spread would have been slowed. The report said such guidelines need to be changed.

Experts said that Governments failed to recognize that declaring a state of emergency was the WHO’s “loudest possible alarm”.

“It is glaringly obvious to the Panel that February 2020 was a lost month, when steps could and should have been taken to curtail the epidemic and forestall the pandemic,” the experts said.

Panel report without hurting anyone

The panel has been criticised for refusing to blame China or then-US President Donald Trump for their actions in the early days of the pandemic. Lawrence Gostin of the O’Neill Institute for national and global health law at Georgetown Law in Washington DC, alleged that the report failed to identify culprits.

“The report does not single out any government, agency, or actor for their actions or inactions in impeding the response – hurting the ability of WHO to adapt for the future.

“In particular, despite marked delays in China’s reporting of a novel outbreak in Wuhan and its impeding WHO in finding the pandemic’s origins, the (panel) did not seek to hold the government accountable,” he said.

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