WHO welcomes the overarching recommendations of The Lancet COVID-19 Commission’s report on “Lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic,” which align with our commitment to stronger global, regional and national pandemic preparedness, prevention, readiness and response. At the same time, there are several key omissions and misinterpretations in the report, not least regarding the public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and the speed and scope of WHO’s actions.
WHO welcomes the Commission’s endorsement of a pandemic agreement, strengthening the International Health Regulations (IHR), and enhancing financing. These issues are core to the vision of WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as distilled in the five priorities for his second term. WHO and its Member States are already enacting these recommendations. The World Health Assembly agreed a historic decision in May 2022 to sustainably finance WHO.This year will see two rounds of public hearings for a pandemic accord take place.
The Commission strongly endorses WHO’s central role in global health, arguing that “WHO should be strengthened” and that reforms “should include a substantial increase of its core budget.”
WHO echoes the Commission’s conclusions that COVID-19 exposed major global challenges, such as chronic under financing of the UN, rigid intellectual property regimes, a lack of sustainable financing for low- and middle-income countries, and “excessive nationalism,” which drove vaccine inequity.
The Organization also agrees with the focus on biosafety, as shown by the formalization of our Technical Advisory Group on biosafety, the publication of our Laboratory biosafety manual – now in its 4th edition – and the publication on 13 September this year of a life sciences framework to help mitigate bio risks and safely govern dual-use research.
WHO places similar emphasis on the importance of multilateralism, solidarity and cooperation when facing pandemics. We also welcome the recognition of the key role that countries themselves play.
Many of the Commission’s recommendations align with those received over the past two years from review bodies set up by WHO itself, such as the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme (IOAC) and the IHR Review Committee, as well as assessments from other entities. As we are a learning organization, we established a dashboard of recommendations from these initiatives and others to track their implementation by WHO and others.
WHO’s rapid response
The Commission does not, however, convey the full arc of WHO’s immediate, multi-year, life-saving response, detailed below:
A comprehensive and detailed list of actions taken by WHO during the COVID-19 response can be viewed in our interactive timeline.
From day one and to this day, WHO, together with our global expert networks and guideline development groups, regularly updates our guidance and strategies with the latest knowledge about the virus, including updates to the SPRP and the COVID-19 global vaccination strategy, and to the 11th version of WHO’s living guideline on COVID-19 therapeutics, which was published in July 2022.
WHO played, and continues to play, a vital role in getting COVID-19 tools to countries in need, not least through joint endeavours such as the ACT-Accelerator, Pandemic Supply Chain Network (PSCN) and UN COVID-19 Supply Chain Task Force. Lab testing capability in African nations rose dramatically over six months, thanks to support from WHO. Only two countries on the African continent had COVID-19 testing capacities at the start of 2020; by mid-year, all 54 countries had them. WHO has supported 18 countries globally to set up plants for medical oxygen.
Throughout the pandemic, the Director-General has repeatedly called for leaders to take actions to protect people and share tools equitably when addressing the world’s most important fora, such as the February Munich Security Conference; the extraordinary G20 Leaders Summit of March 2020; the G7 Summit of June 2021, where the 70% vaccination target was announced; and Global COVID-19 Summits co-hosted by the Biden Administration in September 2021 and May 2022.
Regarding the areas of WHO’s response focused on by the Commission, WHO would like also to highlight the many day-to-day steps, including the following:
The pandemic is not over, though the end is in sight, and WHO continues its response, while laying a stronger foundation for the future:
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