WHO-Appointed Panel Says WHO Needs More Authority, Funding

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Eleanor Bartow Investigative Editor
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An independent panel appointed by the World Health Organization in May 2020 to review lessons learned from the pandemic recommended Wednesday that the WHO be given additional authority and funding.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response advised in its report that the head of WHO should serve a single seven-year term to strengthen the position’s independence, among its many other proposals.

The current WHO chief, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, plans to seek re-election and WHO’s nomination period for the role has begun, Stat News reported May 3.

The Wednesday report also recommended that the World Health Assembly, which will convene May 24, give WHO “the explicit authority to publish information about outbreaks with pandemic potential immediately without requiring the prior approval of national governments.”

The current alert system for public health emergencies of international concern is too slow “and too meek,” according to the report summary.

The time it took from the reporting of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown origin in mid-late December 2019 to a Public Health Emergency of International Concern being declared on Jan. 30, 2020, was too long, the panel said.

Once that declaration was issued, many countries then delayed enacting aggressive containment of the virus, the report added.

The WHO should establish a new global system for surveillance of virus outbreaks, “based on full transparency by all parties,” the report said.

The World Health Assembly should also grant WHO “the power to investigate pathogens with pandemic potential with short-notice access to relevant sites, provision of samples, and standing multi-entry visas for international epidemic experts to outbreak locations,” according to the report.

A Chinese passenger that just arrived on the last bullet train from Wuhan to Beijing is checked for a fever by a health worker at a Beijing railway station on January 23, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

A passenger on the last bullet train from Wuhan to Beijing is checked for a fever by a health worker at a Beijing railway station on January 23, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

A separate WHO-led team investigating COVID-19’s origins released a report in March based on an investigation in Wuhan, China, beginning in January 2021, a year after the outbreak. Chinese authorities had silenced scientists, resisted and delayed an investigation, and deleted and denied access to key data. WHO chief Tedros, the White House, and 13 other countries expressed concern that the WHO team’s report was compromised.  (RELATED: There Are A Lot Of Reasons To Be Skeptical Of WHO’s Report On COVID-19 Origins)

The WHO-led team is starting a second phase of its investigation into COVID’s origins. (RELATED: WHO Team Investigating Pandemic’s Origins Must Have Better Access, Officials And Scientists Say)

“WHO staff worked extremely hard to provide advice and guidance, and support to countries, but Member States had underpowered the agency to do the job demanded of it,” according to the panel’s Wednesday report.

The panel recommended establishing a Global Health Threats Council that will “maintain political commitment to pandemic preparedness and response and hold actors accountable, including through peer recognition and scrutiny.” (RELATED: If Not The WHO, Then Who? Critics Say COVID-19 Investigation Requires A New Treaty, A Do-Over, Or Better Intelligence)

The panel said that wealthy countries should make a commitment to share at least 1 billion vaccine doses with lower-income countries by September 2021, and that the WHO should convene major vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfer of COVID-19 vaccines.

Zoonotic disease outbreaks will continue to increase and preparation for pandemics is inconsistent and underfunded, the panel found.

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