Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Helen Clark urge concrete political action on pandemic preparedness

In response to the World Health Assembly (WHA) May 19th resolution last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) established the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR). The mission of this Panel is to impartially provide an evidence-based path to ensure countries and global institutions, including specifically WHO, can effectively address health threats.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Helen Clark, President of Liberia (2006-2018) and Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008), respectively, are also Co-Chairs of the IPPPR, and recently presented the Panel’s report to the World Health Assembly on May 25th.

President Johnson Sirleaf explained how, despite finding ourselves still in the midst of the current crisis, the Independent Panel has done its utmost to document the evidence and lessons learned, and to provide WHA with a road map for the future. “Now is the time for concrete political action,” she said. “You here at the World Health Assembly have the power to drive many of those necessary actions internationally, and domestically in your vital work as health ministers.“

The IPPPR began its comprehensive review in September 2020, providing an assessment of the challenges ahead, based on insights and lessons learned from the health response to COVID-19 as coordinated by the WHO, as well as on previous health emergencies.

“Our recommendations come as a complete package, and they flow directly from our findings. We believe that if fully implemented, they can help curb the current pandemic and prevent future outbreaks from becoming pandemics,” added Prime Minister Clark. “This World Health Assembly has the opportunity to empower and further strengthen WHO, including by agreeing to establish its financial independence; to strengthen the authority and independence of the Director General; and to equip its country offices adequately to do the necessary work.”

Even as the efforts on equitable vaccination ramp up, the IPPPR urges all countries to apply proven public health measures, which will help curb transmission. Both IPPPR Co-Chairs highlighted the need to also engage at the Ministerial level. “We need you to engage your colleagues in government – especially Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Prime Ministers, and Presidents. We cannot waste the current moment. We need meaningful action now at the G7, the G20, and at meetings of the governing bodies of the Regional and International Financial Institutions,” Johnson Sirleaf said. “Heads of State and Governments need to come together to agree on a political declaration which lays out the roadmap for transformation of the present international system for pandemic preparedness and response. The objective must be to ensure that this is the last pandemic to cause death and destruction in the scale we are witnessing today.”

Following the IPPPR recommendations and the conclusions of WHA, Dr Tedros, Director-General of the WHO, emphasised the importance of calling for a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response. A special session of WHA will meet in November to considering developing a WHO global agreement.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Helen Clark are both Members of Club de Madrid, the world’s largest forum of democratic former Presidents and Prime Ministers, working to strengthen inclusive democratic practice globally. Club de Madrid, together with the Panel for a Global Public Health Convention (GPHC), strongly support the IPPPR position. It is necessary to keep the momentum for concrete policy action. Both Club de Madrid and the GPHC will continue supporting the efforts to engage the Heads of state and government to agree on a political declaration which lays out the roadmap for transformation of the present international system for preparedness and response in the face of future pandemics.

As part of the call for concrete political action, the IPPPR recommends that a new UN General Assembly special session should take place before the end of this year to agree on this political declaration.