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WHO Director-General's introductory remarks for the launch of the GPMB 2020 annual report: A world in disorder

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Your Excellency Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland,

Mr As Sy,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Two years ago, the World Bank and WHO founded the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board out of concern that the world was stuck, as both Dr Brundtland and Dr As Sy said, in a cycle of panic and neglect.

In recent years we have seen a recurring pattern. The world throws money at an outbreak, then does little to prevent the next one.

We have had numerous reviews, reports and recommendations. Some have been heeded; many have not.

It’s as if we wait for the plane to crash, then call for more safety inspections.

We wait until the town burns down, then decide we need a fire department.

We wait until the storm comes, then try to fix the roof.

Let me say it as clearly as I can: we have to work together, plan for the long term, and realize that spending on health and preparedness is not charity, it’s an investment in our future.

Governments and international agencies must be accountable to the populations we have pledged to serve.

In this new report, the GPMB lays out the lessons the world must learn and the concrete actions we can take to protect ourselves.

If we do not learn these lessons now and take the necessary steps to make our world safer, when will we?

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on lives and livelihoods, disrupting health systems, economies, and societies.

Even countries with advanced health systems and powerful economies have been overwhelmed.

But many of the countries that have done well are those that have learned from previous outbreaks like SARS, MERS, H1N1, Ebola and others.

That “muscle memory” has prepared them for this pandemic.

Now the whole world must develop the same muscle memory.

We can no longer wring our hands and say something must be done.

It’s time for countries to get their hands dirty and build the public health systems to ensure a pandemic of this magnitude and severity never happens again.

This will not be the last pandemic, nor the last global health emergency.

But with the right political and financial investments now, we can prevent and mitigate future pandemics and protect our future and the future of generations to come.

Every day that we stand by and do nothing is a day that brings us closer to the next global health emergency, whether from a disease outbreak, climate change, or a natural or self-inflicted disaster.

We do not know what the next health emergency will be, but we know it will come. And we must be prepared.

This is not fear-mongering, it is a call to action. We have the tools and the know-how to confront these challenges.

It is the same reason we mandate seatbelts, invest in fire departments, and vaccinate our children.

The fact is, when it comes to preparedness, our biggest obstacle is ourselves.

Short-term self-interest is simply not sufficient. It is a basic principle of public health: no individual alone can protect themselves from an outbreak, and no nation can act alone in a pandemic.

We can only confront these global threats as a global community, united in solidarity and committed to long-term cooperation.

2020 has been a wake-up call. The COVID-19 pandemic has levied a terrible cost on humanity. These have been hard-won lessons. We must learn from them. And we must build back better.

The GPMB has given us a plan. Thanks to thanks Gro, thanks As Sy and thanks to all board members.

If we, as national and international leaders, do not follow through, then we will have failed in our most fundamental responsibility to the populations we have pledged to serve.

On behalf of WHO and our co-convenors the World Bank, I would like to thank the co-Chairs and Board members for this report and for their recommendations.

The responsibility now lies with all of us to act on them.

I thank you.