Independent Panel Co-Chairs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Helen Clark speak at the 73rd World Health Assembly

The Co-Chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, gave an oral presentation at the 73rd World Health Assembly on Tuesday, November 10. The remarks followed the release of a written progress report submitted by the Independent Panel to the World Health Assembly.

Madam Sirleaf started her remarks by reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic and its severe consequences for people around the world. She also highlighted the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and vulnerable populations:

“COVID-19 has also deepened inequities. School terms ended suddenly leaving hundreds of millions of the poorest children without access to education. COVID-19 has placed heavier burdens and risks on women, especially those in caregiving roles. The virus has had little mercy on the poor in urban and rural communities, racial and ethnic minorities, refugees, and essential workers, who have all been hard-hit.”

She went on to emphasize the importance of equity and solidarity in order for the world  to emerge stronger from this pandemic:

“As many parts of the world continue to face a surge in cases, we must not repeat the history of pandemics. Many health systems are still overwhelmed, with low-income regions disproportionately impacted due to unequal access to health workers, oxygen treatment, ventilators, testing, and personal protective equipment. We are leaving people behind and more has to be done with more urgency. The idea that wealthy nations and the privileged will gain access to life-saving tools like vaccines, testing, or treatments, while the poor and marginalized will be excluded from these tools is the story of every pandemic humanity has faced.

We cannot let this happen again. We must not let this happen again. What’s needed now is equity. What’s needed now is solidarity. What’s needed now is humility. It’s said that ‘if you’ve seen one pandemic, you’ve seen one pandemic.’ Each pandemic is unique and there is a lot to learn from this one. We must learn from this pandemic so we can better respond to its next phase and better prepare for the next pandemics we will face.”

Following Madam Sirleaf’s remarks, Ms. Clark went on to share updates on the Independent Panel’s progress and top priorities: 

“The Independent Panel has moved from its establishment and planning phase to implementation of its work streams based on its Program of Work. We are working to address four lines of enquiry: building on the past, reviewing the present, understanding the impacts of the pandemic, and looking at recommendations for the future. 

Of special interest to us right now, and a top priority, is to establish an accurate chronology of epidemiological, alert, and response events related to COVID-19 – setting out what happened and when. Based on this, we aim to establish the facts about what happened, and to draw lessons from what we learn in order to shape recommendations on what must improve in the future.”

To read their full remarks, click here.

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