An independent panel co-chaired by former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that was tasked with reviewing the international Covid-19 response by the WHO has called for “an overhaul of the WHO”, as per Bloomberg. Among other things, the panel recommends limited terms for WHO leaders, and oversight body and a legally-binding agreement on prevention and response to future pandemics. Crucially, the panel notes, the international system remains unfit to be able to avoid another pandemic of these proportions.
The fact that it believes that the WHO failed in warning countries to assume SARS CoV-2 could spread amongst people early enough shows that the global health watchdog failed to read the signs on the ground, or marshal its expertise. Indeed, the panel says that the body should have declared the outbreak in Wuhan a public health emergency of international concern much earlier than it did. The panel makes note of the fact that the “slow and deliberate” handling of information that is ingrained into the WHO’s regulations proved a hindrance against a respiratory pathogen. It has called for the WHO to have powers to investigate outbreaks much faster, with guaranteed rights of access as opposed to it having to defer to “sensitivities of sovereignty”; how that will sail with countries with authoritarian, information-controlling regimes remains to be seen. China (the 15th largest funder of the WHO), for instance, has been accused of stalling the probe into the origin of the SARS CoV-2 virus, with questions about whether the virus jumped from animals to humans or escaped from one of its top labs lingering.