Unfortunately, the world was not prepared for a pandemic. Let’s be ready for the next one

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Unfortunately, the world was not prepared for a pandemic. Let’s be ready for the next one


TTwo years ago, three months before the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) warned the international community that a pandemic was only a matter of time and the world was not prepared. . Tragically, we were right.

After 20 months of Covid-19, with nearly five million directly attributed deaths and economic devastation, we say once again that the world is not prepared. It neither has the capacity to end the current pandemic in the near future, nor to prevent the next.

We should not be surprised by the catastrophic failures of this pandemic. They are rooted in a long history of inequality and inaction. We should feel a deep shame at the multiple tragedies that have shattered our lives. We should cry and be angry. Because millions of deaths – many of them preventable – are neither normal nor acceptable.

Covid has exposed a shattered world of have and have not where access to vaccines, treatment and PPE depends on your ability to pay. Most blatantly, it is the imbalance of vaccines that strikes our moral fiber and confirms that this pandemic is no longer a shared problem. Vaccine distribution rates almost perfectly follow income distribution.

The lack of global equity is partly due to a fundamental misunderstanding of global solidarity as being based on generosity and not on justice. It is also caused by long-standing systemic inequalities in the global health emergency and in the wider international system.

Funding for health emergency preparedness and response relies heavily on ad hoc bilateral and multilateral development assistance. Low- and middle-income countries are often under-represented and opportunities to involve communities and civil society are scarce, further marginalizing vulnerable groups.

Covid has erupted in a polarized world characterized by increased nationalism, mistrust and inequality. It has only accelerated these trends. The shortcomings start at the top. The United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council, the World Health Assembly, the G7 and G20 leaders, among others, have little to show for their efforts, other than declarations of intent.

Worse, while the key to containing the pandemic and preparing for the next is collective action, current health emergency ecosystem reform processes are fragmented and could exacerbate existing fragmentation.

For all the challenges of the pandemic, she also offered an opportunity. It gave us the opportunity to celebrate the life saving and inspiring role that science can play in alleviating dangerous diseases. We have seen the kindness, comfort and solidarity that people can offer to each other. We also reached consensus that the global health emergency system needs fundamental reform.

Preparation begins with communities and countries. Each country has a responsibility to protect its own people. Each country must follow through on the commitments it has made to its people. Every country can – and must – do more. But global preparation is greater than the sum of national preparation. It requires concerted, collective and coordinated action. At its heart must be a new global social contract that emphasizes fairness, responsibility, solidarity, reciprocity and inclusiveness.

This is why the GPMB, in its new report, calls for stronger political leadership and accountability to change the way the international community prepares for future health emergencies. We call on countries – including those in the south of the world – to work with civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders, to take urgent action to strengthen the ecosystem of pandemic preparedness and response; negotiate an international agreement at the WHO; create a new financing instrument at the World Bank; and develop end-to-end mechanisms to advance public goods for health emergencies and share data. And at the heart of this ecosystem, we need an empowered WHO, reinforced with resources and authority.

We also stress the importance of independent oversight, which plays a vital role in holding our leaders, governments and institutions to account. Together, these actions will help create a cohesive global preparedness and follow-up plan. As we move forward with these solutions, we must keep in mind the lessons of the past and conceive of equity and interdependence.

The window of opportunity for change is quickly disappearing. As life in some parts of the globe returns to a new normal and the world’s attention is distracted elsewhere, the urgency fades.

We know what to do. There have been hundreds of recommendations to reform the system. We just can’t seem to do it. But to do it, we must. We have learned the hard way that disease knows no borders. None of us are safe until all of us are. We must move from words to actions.

  • Elhadj As Sy is co-chair of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent body working to develop a safer world roadmap, the annual report of which can be accessed here

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