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The World Health Organization announced an independent review of the international response to the Covid-19 pandemic on Thursday, an action the organization’s member states tasked it with earlier this year.

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, will lead the review, the WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced in Geneva.


“This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control,” said Tedros, who noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had “exploited the inequalities in our health systems and the schisms in our societies.”

Operating procedures for the process Sirleaf and Clark will lead — called the independent panel for pandemic preparedness and response — will be established in consultation with WHO member states. Countries can propose potential members of the panel.

It is expected to deliver an interim report in November and a “substantive” report to the World Health Assembly — the WHO’s governing body — at its 2021 meeting next May. The WHA called for the independent review at this year’s session, which was virtual and abbreviated, because of the pandemic. It is currently scheduled to resume in November.


The announcement comes just days after the United States served formal notice it will withdraw from the WHO next year, following through on a decision announced by President Trump in late May. Trump cited the WHO’s handling of the pandemic as his reason for ending the U.S.’s membership in the WHO, which will go into effect July 6, 2021 — if he is re-elected. Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, has said he will rescind the action if he is elected.

Tedros said that while in the past, independent evaluation commissions set up by the WHO have used the agency’s staff as support, this group should have its own independent secretariat.

It will be important that the panel is independent and its review rigorous, said Tom Bollyky, director of global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“At the end of the day, this will be about mobilizing global support around a shared vision of pandemic preparedness and response in the future and a credible, independent, and rigorous review is the one most likely to do that,” he said.

Amanda Glassman, executive vice president of the Center for Global Development, applauded the choices of the co-chairs of the commission, saying it signals the process must be seen an issue involving heads of state, rather than a normal review by academics or members of the global health leadership community.

It will be important to have a range of expertise on the panel, Glassman said. She suggested the committee should include people from the intelligence and military communities, as well as economists and individuals with experience in independent global oversight. “It will be important to include known critics [of WHO], not just supporters,” she said in an email.

Tedros said that while the independent panel is doing its work, there are already things the WHO can act on, including changing the WHO’s emergency alert tool, which allows the agency to declare public health emergencies of international concern or PHEICs. The Covid-19 outbreak was declared a PHEIC on Jan. 30, about a week after China took the unprecedented step of placing cities across Hunan province on lockdown to slow spread of the new virus.

It has been clear for some time Tedros hasn’t found PHEICs as useful a tool as the experts who added them to the update of the International Health Regulations in 2005 intended. On Thursday, he called changing the system “low-hanging fruit” and said the WHO is already working on it.

Bollyky said there is mounting support for dropping the current binary approach — a health problem either is or isn’t a global health threat — to a multi-tiered alert system. He noted, however, that such a system would have been unlikely to have led to more rapid and effective responses from governments when the SARS-CoV-2 virus began to spread around the world earlier this year.

“It’s not clear to me why that would have made any difference in this particular circumstance, given that with all the information emerging, the highest alarm that the WHO could issue wasn’t taken seriously,” Bollyky said.

  • It can only be hoped that these chosen two will lead a team of epidemiologists, health experts, scientists, etc, otherwise it is (yet another) wasted effort. This must not be an exercise of merely placating those seeking WHO activity review, producing yet more ineffective “politically correct” babble. This effort must analyse and disclose flaws, and present improvements and solutions.

  • THE primary focus should be why Asian countries have 1/100th the death rates of Western countries. The review MUST include different treatment strategies used. You would think that would be an obvious point, but articles written about this disparity discuss things like proportion of aged, obesity, infection tracking, lockdowns, etc., without even mentioning what treatments they use!

    Clues to hydroxychloroquine effectiveness in cross-country comparisons. 2nd UPDATE: 7/8/2020.

    Robert Clark

  • We welcome the formation at the highest level, of the review Committee to inspect what the global community has/has not achieved in the fight against the invisible world enemy, Covid-19. Wishing them well!

  • Bravo Tedros! Here we go again!!

    1. Spend more money for an independent secretariat!?

    2. Schisms in our societies? How about dysfunctional WHO staff including yourself and the organization?

    3. How about be noble, generous, and non-vindictive and invite Anthony Fauci as one of the leaders rather than a Nobel Peace Prize winner (What is the rationale and who cares), and the PM of a tiny country with very few Covid-19 cases (only 1,540 confirmed cases and 22 deaths per Johns Hopkin as of today) ? Heck Tony knows a heck of a lot more as an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist that you Tedros!

    4. changing the WHO’s emergency alert tool as a low hinging fruit? Areyou kidding me? How about a faster WHO response time, e.g., dispatch relevant experts within one week of being first notified by the Chinese health authorities back in late-January and early February (as reprotedted in the hCinese news media)? Too busy? Visa problem (WHO staff as I undesant does not need Visa to travel to any country)? Cannot book a flight? Or too afraid or lazy to go to the possible and emerging eipicenter? Come on Tedros, tell the truth!

    • Before I forget, how much does that tall building in thsa Manhattan prime real estate market worth? Defunding is not good enough! Kick out all the UN Staff out of Manhattan, convert that tall building to either a condo or hotel, have our USPTO’s son manage the conversion project! Big wind for America and NYC and the local residents and vehicle owners (no more flagrant double and illegal parkers with UN issued diplomatic license plates)!


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