The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities around the world. Preparing and responding to pandemics such as COVID-19 requires solutions that go beyond the health sector—solutions that are multisectoral and inclusive.
One year after their report in which they put forward recommendations for transforming the international system for pandemic preparedness and response, the co-chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response—former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark—published a new report in which they review the progress achieved globally against their initial recommendations.
Having proposed a package of urgent, actionable reforms to end COVID-19 and transform the global system for pandemic preparedness and response, Madam Sirleaf and Ms. Clark noted the slow progress and flagging attention to address the pandemic. They also stressed that “COVID-19 remains a divisive pandemic of inequality and inequity.” They added:
“The Independent Panel’s report called for specific, urgent actions to end the COVID-19 emergency. That has not happened, and the consequences are more illness and death, health systems stretched to breaking point, deepening social divides, and more losses to economies and households.”
They stressed that the social and economic impacts of the pandemic are widespread, with a significant increase in the number of people in extreme poverty this year compared to pre-pandemic projections. Lost schooling and school dropout rates are expected to increase the number of children who are illiterate at age 10 by up to 70 percent in low and middle-income countries. The impact on gender inequalities is no less significant:
“Women were reporting a 26% risk of employment loss by September 2021, compared to 20.4% for men. Women were almost twice as likely to have to forgo work in order to be caregivers, and girls were 21% more likely than boys to drop out of school.”
Madam Sirleaf and Ms. Clark argued that the world is still not ready to prevent a new pandemic from emerging. For that to happen, swift global action must be taken to strengthen the World Health Organization and modern surveillance systems, and guarantee adequate financing, equity, and better governance.
They also called on the international community to maintain momentum around and pursue
accountability for pandemic preparedness and response, adding that funds must be committed and made accessible to lower-income countries to help them in their battle against pandemics.
“The tools we have now need to be deployed to protect the vulnerable, and access to future, even more effective, tools cannot be monopolized by the highest bidder.”
The report also made it clear that communities play a very central role in addressing health threats and “must be placed at the heart of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It concluded with an urgent appeal to the global community to swiftly implement the Independent Panel’s recommendations:
“The next pandemic threat will not wait, and the risks of delay of reforms are too great… A new threat is just one animal-to-human spillover away.”
Read the full report here.