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Africa: Independent Panel on Pandemics Readiness Comes to Grim Conclusion

In their report, the panel examines the progress that has been made against recommendations presented to the World Health Assembly in 2021, which included the establishment of a high-level global health threat council led by heads of state.

Monrovia — “If there were a new pandemic threat today…the world will likely be overwhelmed again”.

That was the grim conclusion of the Independent Panel of Experts on Pandemic response. The group, chaired by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the former Norwegian Prime Minister Helen Clark, assessed the level of progress made on the set of recommendations it presented in 2021 during the height of the Covid crisis.

The panel was established in 2020 by the World Health Organization to advance measures that world leaders must take to avert future pandemics.

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“We just aren’t equipped enough to stop outbreaks before they spread further,” Helen Clark said at Tuesday’s digital conference. She cited the Mpox outbreak, a viral infection that spreads from person to person, which has killed about a thousand people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and several others in South Africa, as an example of the lack of global readiness.

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Clark said if world leaders don’t take serious measures to prepare, they are “gambling with our future”.  She urged the global community to “step up” to change the situation.

In their report, the panel examines the progress that has been made against recommendations presented to the World Health Assembly in 2021, which included the establishment of a high-level global health threat council led by heads of state, a reorganization of WHO’s mandate and roles, the establishment of a new global system of surveillance and the creation of stronger national and regional capacities.

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While Clark acknowledged that there has been some progress over the years to adhere to the panel’s advice –  such as the amendment to the International Health Regulations which will allow for faster information sharing from countries and the WHO, more still needs to be done.

“Should the WHO be split into two organizations,” the former Co-chair asked rhetorically, an apparent reference to the panel’s suggestion for a re-examination of WHO’s mandate – which will allow its emergency operations to be separate from the routine global health functions.

Unfortunately, Clark said, there hasn’t been much focus on other recommendations such as accountability and the exertion of political leadership to help prevent future pandemics.  “We have seen political leadership on pandemic preparedness and response issues just fade away,” she said, warning that pandemic threats are “always with us”.

While agreeing with the stark finding of the panel, other discussants at the conference highlighted the unequal level of global readiness: “Unless we prioritize and prepare well, the global south will not be ready,” the CEO of Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, Petro Terblanche said.

Terblanche said preparedness must be global for the world to be fully protected against future pandemics.

Other discussants called for more engagements with civil society actors, because of their ability to “utilize the global networks”.

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