Countries must take steps to better prepare for future crisis, says WHO, Newsline

Cape Town – Countries must take the hard lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic to better prepare for the next global health emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

During a joint media briefing last week, the WHO and the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) discussed global preparedness in the instance of another widespread infectious outbreak.

GPMB released a report last week, titled, “A World in Disorder”, in which it provided a harsh assessment of the global Covid-19 response and said countries could not afford to be unprepared again when the next global health threat came along.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Sars, Mers, H1N1, Zika virus, and Ebola had demonstrated the occurrence of viruses making the leap from animals to humans.

“Covid-19 has shown that, collectively, the world was woefully under-prepared – but with humility and togetherness, we can plan for the long term and invest in health and preparedness.”

Wealthy and developing nations were dealt an overwhelmed health-care system and a breakdown of essential services.

Ghebreyesus said all countries needed to invest in pandemic preparedness to ensure a pandemic of this magnitude and severity did not occur again. “With political and financial commitment, this could be achieved,” he said.

As countries resume their economies and reduce restrictions in place to curb and combat the spread of the virus, several countries are seeing a resurgence. Around $35 billion is needed to cover diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, said Ghebreyesus,

GPMB co-chairperson Gro Harlem Brundtland said the Covid-19 pandemic had created unprecedented chaos, causing catastrophic health, social, economic and political consequences especially affecting vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.

“While our assessment of the Covid-19 pandemic is harsh, we strongly believe that we can prevent the next pandemic if we learn its lessons and take the actions needed rapidly, boldly and collectively.”

Investing in pandemic preparedness would cost billions of dollars, yet the costs of a pandemic could fall into trillions, she said. Brundtland called for new mechanisms and for the UN secretary-general, WHO director-general and heads of international financing institutions to convene a UN summit on global health security.

Acting WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Jaouad Mahjour, said WHO had been working with countries to assess their capacities as well as better preparedness but challenges included financing.

Mahjour said global solidarity, collective action and sustainable funding was needed in a country’s preparedness, as well as making health systems more resilient.

The WHO’s Covid-19 response technical lead, Maria van Kerkhove, stressed the importance of surveillance, case detection and management, preparing health-care facilities, honest communication, tackling disinformation and implementing non-pharmaceutical interventions.

Cape Argus