Coronavirus: leader of WHO's pandemic review panel condemns US response to outbreak

Former Liberian president says ‘special attention’ needs to be given to fighting Covid-19 in the developing world

The newly appointed co-chair of the World Health Organisation’s independent review into the global response to the coronavirus pandemic has condemned America’s handling of disease and its lack of co-operation with other countries.

Announced on Thursday by the WHO, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response will be led by former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

“In containing this threat to global public health, economic stress and social disorder, we are only as strong as the weakest link in our human chain,” Ms Sirleaf said about the coronavirus crisis on Friday at a virtual event hosted by the Chatham House think tank in London.

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Reuters
Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Reuters

Ms Clark and Ms Sirleaf will pick their own panel members and have their own secretariat. The panel will hold a monthly briefing to give updates on progress.

The panel will present an interim report to the next World Health Assembly gathering in November, with its full report to follow the meeting in May next year. It intends to help the world learn how to deal with a similar crisis in the future.

Ms Sirleaf said that the pandemic would not be overcome unless countries worked together to share resources, strengthen health systems and develop and distribute an effective vaccine.

“We need to protect healthcare workers, provide the necessary care for all who are needed in society. This must particularly include vulnerable groups such as refugees, migrants, the elderly and the infirm,” she said.

Ms Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said that “special attention” should be given to the needs to the Global South group of developing countries and once a vaccine is developed, it must be made accessible and affordable for all countries.

“Admittedly the depth of co-operation required to tackle this pandemic would be challenging to achieve even in the best of times. It is therefore particularly concerning that the virus has struck at a moment when the multilateral system has been under sustained attack, ironically led by the very country that played the leading role in the creation of the existing global governance systems,” she said, in a shot at the United States.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is time for honest reflection on the state of the pandemic. Reuters
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is time for honest reflection on the state of the pandemic. Reuters

The UN agency has been criticised for its early handling of the pandemic and was under attack from US President Donald Trump, who threatened to withdraw Washington's membership, accusing the agency of botching its handling of the pandemic and being a "puppet of China".

The US on Tuesday formally stated its withdrawal from the WHO, making good on Mr Trump's threats to deprive the UN body of its top donor.

Mary Robinson, the former prime minister of Ireland, was also on the panel with Ms Sirleaf and she too criticised the isolationist US approach to the pandemic, which has had “a devastating cost on lives, economic momentum and social equality”.

She decried the US-led “barrage of assaults on multilateralism” but also said she was disappointed in China for fighting with America over the virus’s origins. She added that both countries undermined the messages of the WHO.

Ms Robinson also condemned populist governments, such as Brazil’s and Hungary’s, and their lack of attention to the pandemic.

But she commended the role of women leaders in response to the crisis, who had “led their countries well”.

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 555,000 lives worldwide, with over 12.3 million people infected since the outbreak began in China last December, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.

Updated: July 10, 2020 08:51 PM


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