WHO must reform to ensure ‘faster, better’ pandemic response in future, says co-chair of panel on crisis handling

WHO must reform to ensure ‘faster, better’ pandemic response in future, says co-chair of panel on crisis handling

The World Health Organization (WHO) can and must address the failures that led to it being too slow in its initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the co-chair of an independent review panel has said.

“I do believe that WHO is reformable,” said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Tuesday, the day after a report she helped author was published, which highlighted the WHO’s failure to undertake comprehensive reforms.

“We are not here to assign blame, but to make concrete recommendations to help the world respond faster and better in future,” Sirleaf told reporters.

The independent WHO panel published its interim report on the global response to the pandemic on Monday, which was critical of China’s health measures and several of the WHO’s own actions, including its delayed use of the term “pandemic.”

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The report found that the health agency did not act on the recommendations of several previous reports, including for it to develop a global plan for “public health preparedness and response,” as well as overhauling its financing system.

“The panel notes with deep concern that the failure to enact fundamental change despite the warnings issued has left the world dangerously exposed, as the Covid-19 pandemic proves,” the report reads.

It also questioned why the WHO’s emergency committee did not meet until January 22 last year, three weeks after China reported its first Covid-19 cases. The UN body only declared an international public health emergency on January 30.

Meanwhile, the panel said China should have shared its evidence of the spread of the virus “more widely and proactively,” while the country’s local and national authorities should have applied their public health measures “more forcefully.”

A WHO Covid-19 fact-finding mission is currently underway in China. A 15-person team of scientists has been sent to the Chinese city of Wuhan to investigate the origins of the virus.

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