How and why the pandemic spread so fast are among the questions an Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response was assigned to address. However, the final report by this 13-member panel may have ultimately provided more questions than answers. Here are a few of its findings:
- Early-warning systems either failed or were ignored.
- The origins of the coronavirus outbreak remain unsolved.
- “Delay, hesitation, and denial” fueled the rapid spread of COVID-19.
- Outdated guidelines hampered the WHO response to the pandemic.
- A delay by the WHO in stating that a health emergency was at hand impeded the response time.
The Blame Game
The independent report assiduously avoided naming China as the culprit for starting the spread of the virus. It was also reluctant to name those individuals who might have been involved in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead, it took a big-picture approach to the problem. “The time it took from the reporting of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown origin in mid-late December 2019 to a Public Health Emergency of International Concern being declared was too long,” the document concluded.
The report is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was a “preventable disaster” and suggests a “global health threat council” be established to assess future threats to world health. In its summation document, the panel declared: “The world needs a new international system for pandemic preparedness and response, and it needs one fast, to stop future infectious disease outbreaks from becoming catastrophic pandemics.” While it did not name names and assign blame in its report, the panel was highly critical of the international response to the global health crisis:
“The Independent Panel has found weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response. Preparation was inconsistent and underfunded. The alert system was too slow—and too meek. The World Health Organization was under-powered. The response has exacerbated inequalities. Global political leadership was absent.”
However, this report does little to clarify who would actively participate in such a team, how it would be created, and when. The panel summed up its findings with an ominous admonition:
“But the world cannot afford to focus only on COVID-19. It must learn from this crisis, and plan for the next one. Otherwise, precious time and momentum will be lost. That is why our recommendations focus on the future. COVID-19 has been a terrible wake-up call. So now the world needs to wake up, and commit to clear targets, additional resources, new measures and strong leadership to prepare for the future.
We have been warned.”
One positive note in an otherwise dour report was the “unprecedented” speed in which vaccines were developed. However, the report waded into controversial waters recommending that intellectual property rights be waived for the vaccines. Unsurprisingly, the panel recommended wealthier countries foot the bill for those nations unable to pay for the necessary pandemic preparedness and responses that might be required in the advent of future pandemics.
Although extensive, the Independent Panel’s findings for Pandemic Preparedness and Response did little to clarify the who, what, and where of the coronavirus’ origins, nor did it provide a transparent methodology for the future implementations of its recommendations. However, it did leave the reader with the sense that this will not be the last pandemic to ravage the world and that, like it or not, we may indeed pass this way again.
To read the report in its entirety click here.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.