WHO to initiate Covid-19 review ‘at appropriate time’

Global health leaders are to launch a “lessons learned” review to improve pandemic response and preparedness around the world.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it would initiate an independent evaluation “at the earliest appropriate moment”.

The organisation has previously faced criticism over its response to the pandemic.

But the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the global health body “sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he supported a review “at an appropriate point”.

It comes as health leaders from around the world held a virtual meeting of the World Health Assembly to discuss the international response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Tedros told the meeting that “shortcomings in global health security” were highlighted following the outbreaks of Sars and swine flu.

While some recommendations were adopted others went “unheeded”, he said.

Countries around the world can “no longer afford the short-term amnesia that has characterised its response to health security for too long”, he added.

He said: “We all have lessons to learn from the pandemic.

“Every country and every organisation must examine its response and learn from its experience.

“WHO is committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement.

“In fact, the existing independent accountability mechanisms are already in operation, since the pandemic started.

“The Independent Oversight Advisory Committee has today published its first report on the pandemic.

“In that spirit, we welcome the proposed resolution before this Assembly, which calls for a step-wise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation.

“To be truly comprehensive, such an evaluation must encompass the entirety of the response by all actors, in good faith.

“So, I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned, and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response.”

Dr Tedros added: “Reviews after Sars, the H1N1 pandemic and the West African Ebola epidemic highlighted shortcomings in global health security, and made numerous recommendations for countries to address those gaps.

“Some were implemented; others went unheeded.”

He continued: “The world doesn’t need another plan, another system, another mechanism, another committee or another organisation.

“It needs to strengthen, implement and finance the systems and organisations it has – including WHO.

“Many leaders who have spoken today have raised these issues: implementing, supporting WHO, and financing.

“The world can no longer afford the short-term amnesia that has characterised its response to health security for too long.”

A resolution was put forward ahead of the meeting, supported by a number of member states, including the UK, which called for “a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19”.

Addressing the meeting through a pre-recorded video, Mr Hancock said: “Of course, as with any emergency, there will be lessons to learn from coronavirus, not only for the World Health Organisation, but the wider international system, and for all member states.

“And so we support the need for a review of the global response at the appropriate point.

“As the international health regulations set out, we all have a collective responsibility here.

“But for now, we must all remain focused on the fight against the virus.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman added: “There is a resolution being debated at the World Health Assembly today.

“The UK has always been clear that there will need to be a review into the pandemic to learn lessons, ask why it couldn’t be stopped earlier, and what can be done to prevent it in the future.

“Our view is that the resolution that is being discussed today is an important step towards this.”

Meanwhile, China’s president Xi Jinping told the meeting that China had acted with “openness, transparency and responsibility”.

The country has faced allegations of a lack of transparency over the virus.

Addressing the 73rd meeting of the World Health Assembly, the key decision-making body of the WHO which is attended by representatives of the United Nations’ 194 member states, Mr Xi said: “In China, after making painstaking efforts and enormous sacrifice, we have turned the tide on the virus and protected the life and health of our people.

“All along we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility.

“We have provided information to WHO and relevant countries in a most timely fashion.

“We released the genomic sequence at the earliest possible time.

“We have shared control and treatment experiences with the world, without reservation.”

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