Pandemic Review Panel Critiques WHO

Monday, January 18th, an independent panel of experts concluded that Chinese officials could have applied public health measures more forcefully last January to curb the initial COVID-19 outbreak. Experts reviewing the global handling of the pandemic, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for not declaring an international emergency for the COVID-19 outbreak until January 30, 2020, as explained by NBC News. Specifically, the panel questioned the WHO’s Emergency Committee, which didn’t gather until January 22, 2020. The WHO reportedly didn’t declare COVID-19 as an international emergency until its second meeting on January 30th. Different countries have been calling for the WHO’s review due to the grave unwinding of COVID-19 throughout this past year. Under President Trump, the U.S. accused the WHO of being “China-centric.” In addition to this, European countries led by Germany and France have been pushing the WHO, to address their shortcomings on funding, governance, and legal powers. In conclusion, the panel ended up calling for a “global reset” and decided that they will be making recommendations in a final report to health ministers from the WHO’s member states in May.

According to the report as explained by The India Express, “What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” referring to the initial outbreak of the disease in the city of Wuhan. The report continued to explain how despite the evidence of human to human transmission emerging, countries ignored this signal for far too long until it was too late. In more detail, the report continued to explain that “Although the term pandemic is neither used nor defined in the International Health Regulations 2005, its use does serve to focus attention on the gravity of a health event. It was not until 11 March that WHO used the term.” Overall, they concluded that “The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose. The WHO has been underpowered to do the job.”

Considering how devastating the pandemic is today, a full year later, it can be easy to keep looking back at the past and wondering what could we have done differently. Although it is crucial to do so, in order to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, it is also important to accept the state of the world as it is today and work in the now rather than dread how the past turned out. This pandemic has the potential to bring our world together since, for the first time in years, all citizens of Earth are fighting against the same enemy: coronavirus. The intentions behind this panel’s meetings were to fix problems that came to the surface throughout the past year and how the pandemic was handled. It is clear that it could have been handled better, and with this kind of review, we can ensure that our world is better equipped next time.

The virus was discovered in late 2019 before it managed to seep beyond China into different countries all over the world. Since then, the virus has infiltrated every countries’ borders and continued to “wreak global havoc, costing more than two million lives and eviscerating economies,” as expressed by Al Jazeera. Throughout the entire pandemic, the WHO has been a central figure leading the response efforts. The WHO is a specialized agency within the United Nations, governed by member states through the World Health Assembly. Their responsibilities include coordinating responses for emergencies, monitoring health risks, and promoting health. However, over the past year, the WHO has fallen under an increased amount of criticism and even had funding halted, as explained by the Global Observatory. There have been many different areas where their work has been critiqued, especially since their budget is so low.

The World Health Organization is a major and influential aspect of our world, especially now with the pandemic in full swing for the past year. We have seen millions of lives lost, economies crumbling, and a whole new state of the world. The purpose of this panel meeting was to help ensure that the WHO is better equipped for the future. We were hit with the unexpected with COVID-19 and now that there has been a review, we can feel more secure with how the WHO will handle a situation like this in the future. In simpler terms, the best way to grow and learn is to analyze the past and learn from our mistakes. With this security in the future, our world will feel more at peace.