Looking back at a year that changed the world - WHO’s response to COVID-19

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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2020 has been an extremely challenging year for the world, and for the World Health Organization (WHO).
In this report we look back at how the whole Organization has risen to that challenge. Since 2016, when WHO established the Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, WHO has worked with partners and donors to establish and strengthen the key platforms needed to support countries to prepare for and respond to health emergencies. In 2020 these platforms provided WHO with the foundation from which to launch and coordinate the largest global public health response and the most rapid, most complex biomedical research and development effort in history. As the pandemic has grown and evolved to touch almost every aspect of global health and wellbeing, so WHO’s response has evolved to bring every facet of the Organization’s strength and expertise to bear on COVID-19.

It is important to emphasize that this report reflects on WHO’s role at the centre of a global response that has unfolded on a scale that dwarfs any single organization – even one with a footprint of 150 dedicated country offices around the world. WHO is proud of the role we have played in supporting national authorities to control COVID-19 transmission, protect the vulnerable, and save lives, but wherever and whenever there have been accomplishments they belong to us all. First and foremost they belong to all of the communities around the world that have been affected by COVID-19, and that have taken collective and individual action to stop the spread of the virus. They belong to the health workers who have sacrificed so much to be our first line of defense against the virus, and to keep essential health services running.
They belong to the politicians and leaders who have shown the will to tackle COVID-19, and who have given their populations the tools and knowledge they need to protect themselves, with WHO’s support whenever and wherever it has been requested. They belong to the many partner organizations that have worked with WHO to support every aspect of the response. And they belong to every individual and every organization that has contributed financially, materially, and through their actions to support WHO’s work over the past 12 months. All contributions are absolutely vital, but the flexible donations WHO has received from many generous donors are especially valuable, as they have enabled the Organization to rapidly adapt its support as the pandemic has placed dynamic stresses on different health systems and supply chains over the past 12 months.

This first part of the report sets out a brief history of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, including some of the key milestones in WHO’s early response, and describes the Strategic preparedness and response plan (SPRP) that WHO and partners developed and updated to guide the world’s response to COVID-19 at the global, regional, national, and community level. In part two, we explore how WHO has worked at the global, regional, and national level to support countries to first adapt the SPRP to their own contexts, and then to deliver their own national COVID-19 action plans. Part three details the depth and breadth of WHO’s efforts to coordinate and accelerate research and innovation efforts for high-priority medical and non-medical countermeasures that are accessible to all.

The final, fourth part of the report looks at some of the lessons that WHO has taken from the past 12 months, and looks ahead to the challenges of 2021, as every pillar of the response adapts to the urgent need to prepare and strengthen health systems in advance of the new vaccines, diagnostics, and other technologies that will add to our growing list of countermeasures against COVID-19.