Editor’s note: Mark Dybul is a member of the Independent Pandemic Preparedness and Response Panel, co-director of the Center for Practice and Global Health Impact at Georgetown University Medical Center, and former executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, the Tuberculosis and Malaria and director of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The opinions expressed in this comment belong to the author alone. Read more opinions at CNNE.com/Opinion.
(CNN) – After eight months of rigorous consultation and investigation, the Independent Pandemic Preparedness Response Panel, co-chaired by Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, has issued our Covid-19 report. : make it the last pandemic. The title deliberately raises the question: can this be the last time a disease causes this degree of global loss, suffering and death? We believe the answer is yes, if our recommendation package is adopted.
Let’s be clear first: variants of the new coronavirus could evade the reach of current vaccines and prolong the pandemic. Or a new pathogen, one that is more infectious and more lethal than SARS-CoV-2, could emerge at any moment. Population growth, coupled with environmental damage, is bringing us closer to animals in ways that increase the risk of transmitted diseases that can spread to humans. The emergence of a new pandemic is a constant threat. But a catastrophic pandemic doesn’t have to be inevitable.
We should take note of the countries that have largely managed to keep COVID-19 at bay. Our research showed that successful national responses were often based on lessons learned from previous outbreaks, including SARS, MERS, and the Ebola virus. Many of these countries had existing systems and infrastructure that enabled them to respond to the pandemic quickly and effectively. They also listened to science, changed course when necessary, engaged communities, and communicated transparently and consistently.
These successes show the potential of an integrated local, national, regional and international network that can detect outbreaks early on, sound the alarm bells and put in place a mutually agreed monitoring system.
What do experts recommend to stop a pandemic?
The report of the Independent Pandemic Preparedness Response Panel recommends specific ways to make this happen. Covid-19 has shown how important it is for world leaders to be prepared for the threats of a pandemic. We propose the creation of a Global Health Threat Council led by heads of state and anchored through the UN General Assembly, with members that include global health experts and leaders from the private sector and civil society. It will monitor the performance of the countries and adherence to the measures agreed in the framework of a new Framework Convention for the Pandemic, which in turn can be informed by the first actions of the Council.
The new Council will also oversee the financing of preparedness efforts for a new International Pandemic Financing Facility, which will receive annual contributions of US $ 5,000 to US $ 10 billion from countries based on their ability to pay. The facility will also be able to deploy this money quickly in the face of an emerging pandemic.
We also need an empowered, independent and more focused World Health Organization. Our report examined how an outbreak in Wuhan, China, turned into the worst pandemic in a century. We conclude that WHO needs the authority to immediately investigate and report potential outbreaks, without having to wait for permission from specific countries.
WHO must also maintain its independence. Currently, voluntary contributions to WHO mean that it may be influenced by individual countries or organizations. The CEO and regional directors should also be limited to a single seven-year term, rather than a maximum of two five-year terms, to avoid distracting political pressures on the organization as re-elections approach.
Some commentators have criticized the Independent Panel for failing to single out China and the WHO for their initial responses to the outbreak. I believe that our report serves the world better by looking ahead and uniting the countries that support our recommendations to transform the way we approach pandemic prevention and response. If people want to see what happened and when, the Panel published an authoritative timeline that provides a day-to-day, and sometimes minute-by-minute account of events from December 2019 to March 2020. We cannot change the past, but we must learn from it.
Pandemic fatigue after a year of covid-19
I recognize that many are experiencing pandemic fatigue, particularly in many western countries where the number of infections is decreasing due to the increase in vaccines administered. While many leaders are increasingly concerned about economic recovery, this can discourage nations from focusing on preparing for a future pandemic. But we simply cannot allow ourselves to fall into that all too human attitude. For one thing, the death toll around the world continues to hover between 10,000 and 15,000 a day and the crisis in India is a painful reminder of the devastation of the pandemic.
To prepare for future pandemic threats, we must first do everything we can to end it. We’ve done the math and the panel is asking the richest countries to redistribute 1 billion doses of vaccine through the Covax program to 92 low- and middle-income countries by September, and 2 billion in total by mid-2022. Pharmaceutical companies and vaccine manufacturers must share their formulas and knowledge to expand production capacity.
If not, there should be an automatic waiver of your intellectual property rights within three months under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, a set of global minimum standards established in 1995 by the World Trade Organization. And we need a global supply of oxygen, personal protective equipment, diagnostics and treatments to ensure that those who become infected have a better chance of survival.
I have served on many committees and know very well how recommendations can seem well received only to be politely ignored or only partially implemented. The filing cabinets in UN Departments and government offices are full of them.
That can’t happen this time. Beginning with this week’s World Health Assembly, I urge leaders to begin carrying out our recommendations. If leaders do not take serious action now, humanity will be doomed to successive catastrophes and millions of people will die needlessly.
If not now when? If not us, who? We can, and must, make sure this is the last pandemic.