On 9 July 2020, The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it was appointing an independent panel to review the world’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The panel is co-chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The co-chairs’ mandate is to lead an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the world’s health response to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak. The establishment of this panel is as a result request number 10 at the 73rd Annual WHO General Assembly that reads:
“to initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with Member States, 1 a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, 2 as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19 – including (i) the effectiveness of the mechanisms at WHO’s disposal; (ii) the functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) and the status of implementation of the relevant recommendations of previous IHR Review Committees; (iii) WHO’s contribution to United Nations-wide efforts; and (iv) the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic – and to make recommendations to improve capacity for global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, including through strengthening, as appropriate, the WHO Health Emergencies Programme”.
Their selection followed a consultation between WHO member states and experts. At the announcement of the panel’s establishment, WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control. The magnitude of this pandemic, which has touched virtually everyone in the world, clearly deserves a commensurate evaluation.”
On 3 September 2020, the co-chairs of the panel announced the rest of the panel members, and they are from the international health, economics, diplomatic and activist sectors. Among the named panel was former South African Director General of Health, Precious Matsoso. The selection criteria for the panel was skills and expertise in: outbreak response, managing national health systems, leadership in youth and community engagement and socioeconomic analytical capabilities. “We look forward to intense work together at a key moment in history. In order to honour the more than 25.6 million people who have fallen ill, and more than 850,000 who have died due to Covid-19, we have no time to waste,” said Sirleaf.
The appointment of this panel comes at a time when the world has been fighting the spread of Covid-19 since the end of 2019, with different countries having varying degrees of success in trying to flatten the curve of the virus’ spread. Ghebreyesus explained that it was important that the world readied itself for future potential pandemic outbreaks such as those precipitated by antimicrobial resistance, inequality and the climate crisis.
The panel will sit for its first meeting on 17 September and will consult with various stakeholders including WHO member states, health experts, economists, specialists on the social impacts of the pandemic, civil society, the private sector and the general public.
“We intend to learn all that we can about its early emergence, global spread, health, economic and social impacts, and how it has been controlled and mitigated. The Panel’s recommendations will aim to support effective management of the pandemic and strengthen how the world can prepare for and respond to future pandemics.” said Clark
Speaking to Maverick Citizen, Precious Matsoso expressed that it was a privilege and an honour to serve on what she said is “an important panel made up of diverse and highly experienced people including former heads of state.” She said it was an opportunity to reflect and learn from what other countries have done well in dealing with pandemics, which is the purpose of the panel. She said that this was also an opportunity to look at how capacity for prevention and responses can be built in. “This will give us a chance to recommend how countries can prepare better for a similar pandemic and threat in the future,” she said. Matsoso added that the WHO had existing mechanisms for evaluation and that this was a good opportunity to see which of these mechanisms have been working well or not and in which countries.
Matsoso is also the chairperson of the WHO’s Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee, and has also been a director of public health innovation and intellectual property in the office of the Director-General of the WHO.
In another WHO appointment, Professor Lucille Blumberg, who is deputy Director of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has this week been announced as the vice-chair of the International Health Regulations Review Committee, which will be working closely with the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Panel. DM/MC
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