Coronavirus: WHO launches investigation into global pandemic response

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The World Health Organisation, which has faced criticism over its early handling of the coronavirus crisis, on Thursday launched an independent review into the global response to the pandemic.

Announcing the assessment, which will be presented next May, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it should help the world to understand how to prevent such crises in the future.

The Independent panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response will be led by former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

"Through you, the world will understand the truth of what happened and also the solutions to build our future better as one humanity," Dr Tedros said in Geneva.

At their last assembly in May, WHO member states agreed to a resolution tabled by the EU, which called for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation to review experience gained and lessons learnt from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19".

It said the investigation should review "the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic".

Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand. Victor Besa / The National
Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand. Victor Besa / The National

At the time, the UN agency was under attack from US President Donald , who threatened to withdraw Washington's membership, accusing the agency of botching its handling of the pandemic and being a "puppet of China".

The US on Tuesday formally stated its withdrawal from the WHO, making good on Mr Trump's threats to deprive the UN body of its top donor.

Public health advocates and his political opponents voiced outrage at the move.

Dr Tedros criticised divisions in the international community and warned of their consequences.

"Make no mistake, the greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself," he said.

"Rather, it’s the lack of leadership and solidarity at the global and national levels.

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Reuters
Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Reuters

"We cannot defeat this pandemic as a divided world. The virus thrives on division but is thwarted when we unite."

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 554,000 lives worldwide, with nearly 12.1 million people infected since the outbreak emerged in China last December, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.

"How is it difficult for humans to unite to fight a common enemy that's killing people indiscriminately?” Dr Tedros asked.

"Together is the solution, unless we want to give the advantage the enemy, to the virus that has taken the world hostage. And this has to stop."

He said it was time for honest reflection, and stressed it was important to remain vigilant.

"All of us must look in the mirror – the WHO, every member state, all involved in the response, everyone," Dr Tedros said.

"We're in the midst of this battle, the battle of our lives, and we have to do better, not just now but for the future, because these threats will never stop and, in all likelihood, they will get worse."

Ms Clark and Ms Sirleaf will pick their own panel members and have their own secretariat.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is time for honest reflection on the state of the pandemic. Reuters
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is time for honest reflection on the state of the pandemic. Reuters

The panel will hold a monthly briefing to give updates on progress.

It will present an interim report to the next World Health Assembly gathering in November, with its full report to follow at the May 2021 meeting.

"I look forward to doing all we can to respond to these challenges that have prevented us from being united in moving forward, not only to address the effects of Covid-19 but to ensure a better health system for all nations," said Ms Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Ms Clark said: "This assignment could only be described as exceptionally challenging."

Updated: July 10, 2020 02:23 AM

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