Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Helen Clark Call on G7 Leaders to ensure COVID-19 the Last Pandemic

As G7 leaders meet in the coming days, we call on leaders at the Summit to make specific commitments to pandemic preparedness and response which will sustain political momentum between health emergencies.

Past experience suggests that the world quickly forgets health crises and neglects the preparedness required to avert future ones. Given the multiple damages and the fresh lessons learned from COVID-19 – the most catastrophic worldwide event of this century –  G7 leaders must commit to specific steps to ensure that such a pandemic never occurs again.

We recognise that G7 preparatory work and public communiqués demonstrate support for areas critical to pandemic preparedness and response, including the importance of enhanced political leadership; sufficient financing for preparedness and for emergency surge response; an equitable, end-to-end ecosystem for pandemic countermeasures; a successful UNGA High-Level Meeting; and an authoritative WHO.

Yet, given the COVID-19 pandemic experience which flowed from failures of preparedness and of effective global co-ordination, resulted in the deaths of more than twenty million people worldwide and the loss of trillions of dollars to the global economy, we expect G7 leaders to make more specific and ambitious commitments to transform the international system for pandemic preparedness and response.

The G7 should seize this opportunity to support historic changes which will transform the world’s collective capacity to prepare for and respond to pandemic threats.

We spent many months reviewing the global response to COVID-19 as Co-Chairs of The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. The Panel made recommendations which, if fully implemented, would help ensure much greater preparedness, a capacity to identify and warn of pandemic threats rapidly, and a capacity for immediate and co-ordinated responses which would stop another pandemic threat from overtaking the world once again.

Our report underscored that previous reviews of notable disease outbreaks have been largely ignored. The COVID-19 pandemic was at once a predictable and terrible outcome of lack of preparedness and response capacity.

Our recently released Road Map for a World Protected from Pandemic Threats recommends specific areas that must be addressed to build greater global pandemic preparedness and response capacities.

These are:

  1. Ensuring political leadership from Heads of State and Government. Pandemic threats are complex global crises with impacts extending well beyond the health sector. Therefore, former Independent Panel members and many others continue to call for an inclusive, independent, high-level global health threats body, comprised of Heads of State and Government, to ensure sustained multi-sectoral focus on pandemic preparedness and response capacities.

Without such sustained focus, response to the next pandemic threat is likely to be as chaotic as the response to COVID-19 has been.

  1. Improved international rules for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response: The World Health Assembly processes towards negotiation of a pandemic accord and amended International Health Regulations should be fully supported to reach successful conclusion, with clear rules which support rapid detection, reporting, and investigation of pandemic threats wherever they occur and measures to arrest them.
  2. Independent monitoring: to promote accountability, a fully independent, multi-sectoral expert monitoring body should be established to collect and analyse information from multiple sources, and publish public reports regularly.
  3. Establishing an equitable, operational ecosystem for pandemic countermeasures: this must be truly ‘end to end’ to serve public health goals in every country and for every community. It should be based on a global commons model, regional resilience, openness, and technology sharing. It must begin with regional research on and development and manufacturing of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies which can stop outbreaks when and where they occur.
  4. Sufficient financing for preparedness and for crisis response:

At least US$10.5 billion is required annually to support preparedness in low- and middle-income countries. So far only around ten per cent of that has been committed to The Pandemic Fund established at the World Bank. G7 leaders should commit to ensuring that the full amount required each year is mobilised.

For emergencies, US$50-$100 billion must be made available immediately when a threat emerges to support low- and middle-income countries to avert catastrophic economic, fiscal, and social crises, and ensure purchase of pandemic supplies. The work of the G20 Joint Health and Finance Taskforce has been welcome, but it must tackle this area of work with urgency given the inevitability of new and grave health threats emerging.

  1. An independent, authoritative WHO: To tackle the next health threat with pandemic potential, Member States must support WHO to have the authority, independence, and funding required to play its essential role.

WHO Member States must see through their commitment to increase assessments against WHO’s base budget to 50% by the early target year of 2028, and they must amend the International Health Regulations in a manner that gives WHO the authority to act within specific, rapid timelines when a pandemic threat emerges.

We believe that the United Nations General Assembly, the most inclusive high-level body of the UN system, can and should commit to these areas of transformative change at the 20 September High-Level Meeting for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response in New York.

We call on G7 leaders – and G20 leaders – together with the entire membership of the United Nations General Assembly, to take specific decisions which will help stop health threats where and when they occur, and will transform the international system for pandemic preparedness and response.

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