THE Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), an international body monitoring and evaluating preparedness for countries for natural and man-made disasters including a pandemic, issued an annual report for 2020 on September 14 and titled it: A World in Disorder.
I am giving way in my column this week to the important contents of the report.
Chairing the GPMB is Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and former director-general of World Health Organization (WHO), and Elhadj As Sy, chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation Board and former secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
In this report, the GPMB provides a harsh assessment of the global Covid-19 response, warning that the world cannot afford to be unprepared again when the next pandemic hits. GPMB outlined several lessons learned from Covid-19, which includes:
Political leadership makes the difference. Effective leaders act decisively, on the basis of science, evidence and best practice, and in the interests of people. Emergency response is not a choice between protecting people and protecting the economy; public health action is the quickest way to end the threat and return to productivity and security.
Preparedness is not only what governments do to protect their people, it is also what people do to protect each other. In the absence of an effective vaccine or treatment, individual behaviors have never been more important. Citizens can protect one another and demonstrate social and moral responsibility by acting in the best interests of all.
The impact of pandemics goes far beyond their immediate health effects. In addition to its immediate death toll, Covid-19 will be remembered for its rapid global spread and devastating social and economic impact, especially for the vulnerable and disadvantaged. It has demonstrated the importance of protecting lives and livelihoods, and widening our understanding of preparedness to make education, social and economic sectors “pandemic proof.”
Current measures of preparedness are not predictive. Our understanding of pandemic preparedness has been inadequate. National measures of preparedness have not predicted the effectiveness of countries’ response in stopping the viral spread and saving lives, and the critical importance of social protection has been neglected. The ultimate test of preparedness is response.
The return on investment for global health security is immense. Expenditures for prevention and preparedness are measured in billions of dollars, the cost of a pandemic in trillions. It would take 500 years to spend as much on investing in preparedness as the world is losing due to Covid-19.
No one is safe until all are safe. Global preparedness is not simply the sum of national preparedness. A pandemic is, by definition, a global event and as such demands collective global action. The multilateral system exists to support that action. Where it is weak, it needs strengthening, not abandoning. The world of pandemic preparedness is already complex. It needs consolidation, not further fragmentation.
The Board called for five urgent actions to be taken to bring order out of the catastrophe and chaos currently facing the world: responsible leadership; engaged citizenship; strong and agile systems for health security; sustained investment; and robust global governance of preparedness.
GPMB calls for responsible leadership and urgent actions. National leaders and leaders of international organizations and other stakeholders take early decisive action based on science, evidence and best practice when confronted with health emergencies. They discourage the politicization of measures to protect public health, ensure social protection and promote national unity and global solidarity.
GPMB calls for heads of government to appoint a national high-level coordinator with the authority and political accountability to lead whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches, and routinely conduct multisectoral simulation exercises to establish and maintain effective preparedness.
National leaders, manufacturers and international organizations ensure that Covid-19 vaccines and other countermeasures are allocated in a way that will have the most impact in stopping the pandemic, that access is fair and equitable, and not based on ability to pay, with health care workers and the most vulnerable having priority access. Each country should get an initial allocation of vaccine sufficient to cover at least two percent of its population, to cover frontline health care workers.
GPMB calls for engaged citizenship. Citizens demand accountability from their governments for health emergency preparedness, which requires that governments empower their citizens and strengthen civil society. Every individual takes responsibility for seeking and using accurate information to educate themselves, their families and their communities. They adopt health-promoting behaviors and take actions to protect the most vulnerable. They advocate for these actions within their communities.