Unless an urgent collective effort is made to establish a stronger international system for pandemic preparedness and response, the world is at risk of a future global “pandemic catastrophe” that could be even more devastating than COVID-19, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf cautioned United Nations (UN) Member States.
Madam Sirleaf joined former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, her Co-Chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, to deliver a briefing to the UN General Assembly on the Panel’s findings and recommendations in response to COVID-19.
According to the Panel’s final report, “COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic,” a “myriad of failures and gaps in pandemic preparedness and response” led to COVID-19 growing into a global pandemic, beginning with “a failure to learn from the past.”
Recalling her own experience leading Liberia through the Ebola outbreak of 2014–2016, Madam Sirleaf stressed that despite promises of ‘never again’ in response to previous disease outbreaks, the countries of the world had not “heeded the many warnings prepared their health and surveillance systems” in order to respond swiftly and adequately to the current pandemic. At the outset of COVID-19, they also failed to act “together in mutual transparency and solidarity.”
Today, the “socio-economic and human tragedy of this pandemic” continues in countries around the world, and Madam Sirleaf reminded the General Assembly that “where resources are least, people suffer most.” While vaccine rollouts are well underway in several rich countries, in less-wealthy nations, including many in Africa, procuring enough vaccines remains a challenge.
Concluding her address, Madam Sirleaf was adamant that now was the time for collective action and change:
“The General Assembly has a decisive role to play in backing the needed reforms strengthening the multilateral infrastructure so that it can identify and respond more quickly to the next virus with pandemic potential.”
The full remarks from the briefing are here.