By Carolyn Reynolds, Co-Founder Pandemic Action Network
We warned you, but you did not listen. That’s the overarching message of the new report from the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) entitled A World in Disorder. In their inaugural report one year ago, the GPMB warned of the risk of a high impact, respiratory pathogen that could quickly spread around the globe. Now in their latest report with a starker cover and a sterner title and narrative―much like parents admonishing their delinquent teenagers―the current and former global health elders that make up the GPMB are wagging their fingers and telling world leaders: you’re out of chances.
This year’s report echoes many of the main messages from last year’s (and from many other expert commissions in recent years), including: national political leadership is paramount; investing in preparedness is not only about saving lives, it’s about protecting economies; the impact―and hence the solutions―of pandemic preparedness go well beyond the health sector, and require a One Health approach; and no one in the world is safe until everyone is safe.
Four recommendations in the report that are particularly welcome:
The UN Secretary General should convene a UN Summit on Global Health Security with heads of state, the WHO Director General, and heads of the International Financial Institutions to forge a new international preparedness and response framework.
Create a new sustainable financing mechanism for global health security that incentivizes nations to prioritize preparedness and recognizes it as a global common good that should not be at the mercy of political and economic cycles. This echoes the call of many of our Network partners for a Global Health Security Challenge Fund.
Amend the International Health Regulations (IHRs) to improve access to information and increase member state accountability beyond the scope of the current IHRs. This will be politically fraught but unavoidable to drive the change necessary.
Finance global health R&D as a public good by building on the unprecedented international scientific collaboration around COVID-19 to create a sustainable, coordinated global R&D financing and delivery mechanism to facilitate rapid R&D for epidemic-risk and novel diseases and ensure that every country has an affordable and reliable pathway to secure vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and other medical countermeasures for health emergencies when they need them.
Unfortunately (although not surprisingly), the request for a high-level summit was stripped from the omnibus COVID-19 resolution passed by this year’s UN General Assembly, a casualty of the highly polarized geopolitical environment. But advocates should not be deterred. Such a summit to prioritize pandemics as a grave global security threat, secure high-level political commitments, and drive a new international consensus and accountability is the right call to action. The Pandemic Action Network and our partners will be pressing world leaders to convene this summit before the end of 2021―this should happen as soon as possible after the Independent Panel on Preparedness and Response delivers its report to the World Health Assembly next May. To ensure this results in meaningful change by governments and international institutions, the planning should get underway now.
Does this year’s GPMB report have a better chance than its predecessor to convince policymakers to act? I am cautiously optimistic, for two reasons. First, its warning is no longer hypothetical. The COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding before our eyes, with no end yet in sight, and it looks likely to get worse before it gets better as we see resurgences around the globe and flu season gets underway. If there was ever a time that political leaders may be open to do something, this should be it.
Second, we now have a global advocacy effort focused on preparedness to take up these calls for action and hold national and global leaders to account. GPMB co-chair As Sy, the former Secretary-General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said we need “a global movement of solidarity” committed to inclusion, partnership and compassion to make the world safer from pandemics. The Pandemic Action Network is dedicated to growing this movement: In a few short months we have brought together more than 40 organizations with global reach to drive collective action to end this pandemic and help prevent the next one. And we are just getting started.
At the GPMB report launch, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “If we do not learn these lessons now and take the steps necessary, when will we? This will not be the last pandemic or global health emergency. Every day we stand by and do nothing is another day we come closer to the next disaster. We don’t know what it will be, but we know it will come―and we must prepare. When it comes to preparedness, our biggest obstacle is ourselves.”
The warnings are crystal clear. So, will leaders listen this time and do what is required to prepare for the next pandemic? The Pandemic Action Network is here to make sure they do. Join us!