Statement of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, delivered by Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director, World Health Emergencies Programme on the Director-General’s behalf.
Your Excellency Volkan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly,
President Sirleaf, the Right Honourable Helen Clark,
Excellencies, colleagues and friends,
Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity of joining you for this very important briefing.
The Director-General, Dr Tedros, sends his apologies that he cannot be here, and I have the honour of delivering these remarks on his behalf.
First of all, I would like to thank President Sirleaf and the Right Honourable Helen Clark for their leadership as co-chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, and for the work of the panel members and the secretariat.
As President Sirleaf said, the Panel’s report was presented to the World Health Assembly in May, and WHO’s Member States are considering it carefully.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed two critical areas in which the world needs to do far more to bolster global health security: strengthening and sharing.
Pandemics start and end in communities. All our work to prevent future pandemics must start locally, by strengthening public health surveillance and systems that can detect and contain diseases at source, stronger primary health care systems that can save lives, and bolstering community engagement and participation through stronger social safety nets. That must be our first priority.
All Member States must continue to strengthen the national core capacities called for under the International Health Regulations, so that they are functional and scalable when a pandemic occurs.
But we also need to strengthen preparedness and response capacities at the global level: the systems, mechanisms, tools and networks that must be put in place to help prevent, detect and respond rapidly to future pandemics.
All of this requires sustainable and predictable financing, including from domestic budgets.
As Helen said, the best way to do this is through existing financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the regional development banks, rather than creating a new institution.
Strengthening global health security also requires improvements in governance and oversight, including by strengthening WHO’s coordinating role at the centre of the global health architecture.
With 194 Member States and 152 country offices, WHO has a unique global mandate, unique global reach and unique global legitimacy.
Of course, many Member States rely on WHO’s technical, standard-setting work. But WHO also plays a vital role in supporting the provision of health services and supplies in many settings where humanitarian partners don’t have a presence, or which they are unable to access.
In the early stages of the pandemic, WHO and our partners established the COVID-19 Supply Chain system, which was a vital source of standards, specification, quality, coordinated procurement and collective distribution and delivery of PPE, tests and other essential supplies on the basis of need for many Member States.
This is an important coordinating role which we believe WHO should continue to play, with others, ensuring that the right medical commodities get to the right place at the right time and can be used safely and effectively in the front line. This is not just a logistics function: it’s an end-to-end challenge to ensure the quantity, quality, fair distribution and effective use of essential supplies.
So we welcome the Independent Panel’s recommendation for a strengthened, empowered and financially independent WHO.
We agree that strengthening global health security requires the engagement of heads of state and government, which the proposed Health Threats Council is designed to achieve.
When Ellen and Helen presented their report to the Director-General earlier this year, he proposed that the composition of the Health Threats Council should mirror the composition of WHO’s Executive Board.
In this way, the mandate of the Health Threats Council would be linked to and aligned with the mandate of WHO, rather than creating a parallel structure, which could lead to further fragmentation of the global health architecture.
On the idea of a political declaration on pandemic preparedness and response, if Member States decide to move forward with this initiative, WHO would be pleased to lead this process, as we have done for other recent health-related declarations on universal health coverage, tuberculosis, antimicrobial resistance and noncommunicable diseases.
But above and beyond improved mechanisms, improved tools and improved financing, the world needs an improved framework for pandemic preparedness and response.
One of the major gaps exposed during this pandemic has been the lack of international solidarity and sharing: the sharing of pathogen data, epidemiological information, specimens, resources, technology and tools such as vaccines.
That’s why the one recommendation that WHO believes will do most to strengthen both WHO and global health security is the recommendation for a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response.
We need a generational commitment that outlives budgetary cycles, election cycles and media cycles;
That creates an overarching framework for connecting the political, financial and technical mechanisms needed for strengthening global health security.
Crucially, whatever structure, framework or mechanisms we design together, they must be designed and implemented as a package, not a set of disconnected initiatives, and they must be designed and owned by all Member States, of all sizes and income levels.
At the World Health Assembly in May, Member States agreed to hold a Special Session of the Assembly in November to consider developing a WHO convention, agreement or other type of international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response.
We call on all Member States to engage in this process.
We must seize the moment. In the coming months and years, other crises will demand our attention, and distract us from the urgency of taking action now.
If we make that mistake, we risk perpetuating the same cycle of panic and neglect that has led us to the point.
Once again, we thank the Independent Panel for its work. WHO remains committed to working with all our Member States to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.