Elevating political leadership for Pandemic Preparedness and Response Meeting with the UN General Assembly

Milestones :: Perspectives :: Research

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response
Elevating political leadership for Pandemic Preparedness and Response Meeting with the UN General Assembly
28 July 2021
Statement [Excerpts]
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
…So today there is a choice – to carry on with business as usual with the inevitability of a future pandemic catastrophe, or to make real and lasting change.

That choice is clear: now we must act – this must be the last pandemic to cause devastation on the scale we are witnessing today. We need a stronger international system for pandemic preparedness and response that understands the threats, is alert, and is poised to take collective action. The job can’t be done by any single country working alone. It can’t even be done by a group of countries, no matter how willing, because we are only as strong as our weakest link. Therefore, the UN General Assembly has a decisive role to play in strengthening the multilateral infrastructure so that it can identify and respond more quickly to the next virus with pandemic potential.

Helen Clark
…The international system needs to work as a coherent and effective system – and it must also work across sectors and silos. The pandemic is not only a health crisis; it is also a social economic, political, and peace and security crisis. That is why we have come to you – the UN General Assembly. Our Panel believes that the General Assembly has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the international system is co-ordinated and empowered to identify and act against future diseases with pandemic potential.
We said earlier that our recommendations are a package. We propose that a negotiated political declaration be adopted by the UN General Assembly later this year, setting out the road map for a stronger international system for the future.  

That roadmap should set out the architecture required and the steps to be taken to create it. It should encompass support for a new high-level oversight council, a dedicated financing mechanism, a new pandemic convention, and a  redesigned, permanent mechanism replacing ACT-A based on a global public goods model.

At the top of that system, our Panel recommends the creation of a Global Health Threats Council at the level of Heads of State and Government and including private sector and civil society representation. Pandemic preparedness must be led from the top, and it must be multisectoral.

Indeed, that Council would be tasked with maintaining political commitment to pandemic preparedness and response. It would not be an operational body, but rather a body that monitors progress, draws attention to gaps, and holds actors accountable – all key functions that the Panel found were missing in the international system.

WHO has an indispensable role in responding to global health emergencies and ensuring longer-term public health and health security through the strengthening of primary health systems in all countries. WHO is and should remain the lead agency for health in the international system. The quality, timing, and clarity of the technical advice and direction WHO provides to the world are of the utmost importance and Member States must adequately resource, empower, and further strengthen it. We welcome the initiative taken by the World Health Assembly to establish a Working Group on strengthening WHO.

The Panel backs the calls for a new pandemic framework convention which should, among other things, fill gaps in the current legal system and clarify the responsibilities between States and international actors. This pandemic treaty or framework convention would give state parties the opportunity to commit to the principles of pandemic preparedness and response in the spirit of mutual obligation, and give a framework for the institutional architecture needed to prevent future pandemics. The Panel recommended that it be adopted using the powers under Article 19 of the WHO Constitution, and be complementary to the International Health Regulations.

We propose the creation of an international pandemic financing facility. It must be able distribute up to ten billion dollars a year for preparedness and disburse up to one hundred billion in the event of a crisis. Ultimately, investing billions in preparedness now will save trillions in the future, as the current pandemic has so clearly illustrated. Funding for response to this pandemic generally was too little and came too late.

The facility should raise resources on an ability-to-pay formula with all countries contributing and allocations being made to those requiring solidarity funding. This should be a sustainable core commitment – not subtracted from an already stretched development assistance envelope. The facility could be hosted by an existing institution which is representative of countries big and small, rich and poor – we have proposed that the Global Health Threats Council be the allocator of funds.

The Panel considered that the current model of development and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for pandemics is not fit for purpose. We believe there is a need to shift away from a market-based model to one based on global public goods. This can be achieved through a transformation of ACT-A.

The Panel has recommended increasing the authority and independence of WHO, including by it having adequate, predictable, flexible and sustainable funding, and having its Director General and Regional Directors in future each serving a single term of seven years.

A greatly improved system for disease surveillance and alert is needed. WHO must have the authority to investigate outbreaks of concern rapidly, and publish information rapidly on its own authority. Future declarations of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the WHO Director-General should be based on the precautionary principle where warranted, as in the case of respiratory infections. PHEIC declarations should be based on clear, objective, and published criteria.

The Panel recommended that WHO set measurable benchmarks for country preparedness and response capacities, and for countries to invest accordingly, with support coming from the dedicated financing mechanism for those with limited resources. WHO should formalise universal periodic peer reviews of country progress against the benchmarks it sets. We also brought the IMF into the picture – proposing that it incorporate assessments of preparedness as part of its Article Four consultations.

Ultimately preparedness rests on national governments setting up the right structures, developing the needed capacities, and investing in vital assets such as health and other system resilience and social protection. Governments can listen and learn from the best practices we illustrate in our report.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
…I speak with conviction when I say that this current pandemic must be the last to cause devastation to human life, societies, and economies. As a world, we must do better.

This time we must act and not bury this analysis and these recommendations in the vault as has happen many times before.

To implement a package of reforms like that which our Panel has developed will require the engagement of Heads of State and Government. Every Head of State and Government is currently focused on the problems created by the pandemic.

It is vital now to mobilise the political will to make the changes required for a more effective and timely global response next time a pandemic threat emerges. We owe this to future generations.

The General Assembly has the authority to convene at the highest level to endorse a negotiated political declaration which will drive reform. That is what our Panel has requested the General Assembly to do, and we hope that you will give this your most serious consideration.