The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent body created by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, decried that the coronavirus pandemic has revealed how little the world had focused on preparing for such disasters despite ample warnings that large disease outbreaks were inevitable.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is providing a harsh test of the world’s preparedness,” the GPMB report said, concluding that little progress was made on any of the actions it had called for in its initial report last year, before COVID-19 struck.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, GPMB co-chair and former WHO chief, stressed during the virtual launch of the report early this month that the board had warned a year ago that the world was ill prepared for a pandemic. “Tragically and catastrophically we have seen our worst fears realized,” she said.
“The impact of COVID-19 is even worse than we anticipated, but actions that we called for last year, have still not been taken.”
Brundtland, also a former Norwegian prime minister, insisted that it was time to break the “cycle of panic and neglect” that had unleashed the “catastrophic” consequences of COVID-19.
The GPMB urged the UN, the WHO and international financial institutions like the World Bank to convene a summit on the global health emergency aimed at agreeing on an international framework for emergency preparedness and response.
“The return on investment in pandemic preparation is immense,” she said, pointing out that “estimates of the cost of prevention and preparedness are measured in billions of dollars, but the cost of a pandemic is measured in trillions.”
Current WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agreed, saying “spending on health and preparedness is not charity. It is an investment in our future.” Not spending on it is “as if we wait for the plane to crash and then call for more safety inspections; we wait until the town burns down, then decide we need a fire department.”
Tedros stressed that COVID-19 “will not be the last pandemic, nor the last global health emergency.”
Countries currently struggling to contain the pandemic such as the Philippines may not have the luxury of looking ahead so it is now upon the international community to set up the framework for preparedness and response that can protect our people from future pandemics.
It is not a matter of if, but when. We have already seen what a pandemic like COVID-19 can do and we should all agree by now that we cannot afford another round. Hopefully our experience with this pandemic will give us the determination to do all everything possible to ensure our failures in terms of prevention and preparedness doesn’t happen again.*