Applying the lessons learned from COVID-19
The official release of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) report of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, “COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic” on Wednesday has opened a new chapter in the fight against likely health challenges in the future.
But while the report lays to rest all conspiracy theories that pointed a finger at China’s culpability and even responsibility for the pandemic, it goes a step further and recommends measures to forestall any other emergence of a similar health crisis.
Basically, the report found weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response. Preparation was inconsistent and underfunded. The alert system was too slow — and too meek. The World Health Organization was under-powered. The response has exacerbated inequalities. Global political leadership was absent.
The independent team put the global dysfunctional health system on the spot for its feeble, under-funded and uncoordinated response to the coronavirus crisis. The report also laments the lack of global political leadership, which observers say is attributable to the U.S. denial of the pandemic, and its reckless approach in addressing the crisis.
Critically, the world cannot afford to focus only on COVID-19. It must learn from this crisis, and plan for the next one. Otherwise, precious time and momentum will be lost. That is why our recommendations focus on the future. COVID-19 has been a terrible wake-up call. So now the world needs to wake up, and commit to clear targets, additional resources, new measures and strong leadership to prepare for the future.
The Panel calls for immediate actions to end the COVID-19 pandemic. It asks high income countries with a vaccine pipeline for adequate coverage should also commit to provide supplies to the 92 low- and middle income countries of the COVAX. The World Trade Organization and WHO should also convene major vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfer for COVID-19 vaccines.
While the report also recommends that WHO immediately develop a roadmap with clear goals, targets and milestones to guide and monitor the implementation of country and global efforts towards ending the pandemic, it asks governments to elevate pandemic preparedness and response to the highest level of political leadership.
Indeed, for China a tough lesson has been learned and it is time to prepare for the next challenge. Just a day after the launch of the authoritative WHO report, the country launched the National Bureau for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing. According to an official statement, the establishment of the administration body aims at expanding the roles of disease prevention and control agencies from preventing and containing diseases to comprehensively safeguarding and promoting the health of the entire population.
Functions of the agency, which will be managed by the National Health Commission, include:
- Formulating policies for the prevention and control of infectious diseases and for public health supervision.
- Steer development of the disease prevention and control system, the epidemic monitoring and early warning system, and the scientific research system for disease control.
- Supervision and management of public health and the supervision of infectious disease prevention and control.
Indeed, the status of a health system has far reaching impact on any country’s socio-economic development. Chief Guest at the event Vice Premier Sun Chunlan underlined the importance of reforming and improving the disease prevention and control system to safeguard people's health and national security.
Indeed, experts said that this new development marks a transition of the role of China's disease control institutions from simply preventing and controlling diseases to comprehensively safeguarding and promoting the health of the whole population.
Achieving this requires creating a network of tiered and classified public health emergency response teams, developing new mechanisms for enhancing coordination between disease prevention and control agencies and hospitals, boosting scientific research in the field and improving the consultation system for decision making.
A communique of the High-level Emergency Virtual Meeting of African Ministers of Health on the COVID-19 Situation in Africa on May 14 noted that COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat to socio-economic and health security of Africa’s efforts to achieve its set goals of Agenda 2063. It was also concerned about the rising morbidity and mortality caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, including the negative impacts on physical, mental health and social well-being, negative impact on the economy, and the consequent exacerbation of inequalities within and between countries.
The meeting collectively endorsed an adapted joint continental strategy with focus on enhanced prevention, monitoring and treatment in order to meet the changing dimensions of the COVID-19 on the continent as well as the evolving nature of the global pandemic.
The writer is the Executive Director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi based research and development communication think tank