COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is a sign of how vulnerable and fragile our world is. The virus has upended societies, put the world’s population in grave danger and exposed deep inequalities. Division and inequality between and within countries have been exacerbated, and the impact has been severe on people who are already marginalized and disadvantaged. In less than a year and a half, COVID-19 has infected at least 150 million people and killed more than three million. It is the worst combined health and socioeconomic crisis in living memory, and a catastrophe at every level.
The new millennium has seen the havoc which global health threats like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Ebola and Zika can cause. Experts have been warning of the threat of new pandemic diseases and urged major changes in the way we protect against them – but the change needed has not come about. As soon as a health threat or deadly outbreak fades from memory, complacency takes over in what has been dubbed a cycle of panic and neglect. This cycle must end.
COVID-19 is the 21st century’s Chernobyl moment – not because a disease outbreak is like a nuclear accident, but because it has shown so clearly the gravity of the threat to our health and well-being. It has caused a crisis so deep and wide that presidents, prime ministers and heads of international and regional bodies must now urgently accept their responsibility to transform the way in which the world prepares for and responds to global health threats. If not now, then when?
Our message for change is clear: no more pandemics. If we fail to take this goal seriously, we will condemn the world to successive catastrophes.
Given the devastation of this pandemic and its impact on people everywhere, our findings are necessarily tough, and our recommendations actionable.
Since September 2020, the Independent Panel has learned from many stakeholders – front-line health workers, women, youth, mayors, ministers, scientists, chief executive officers, international officials and diplomats. We have also heard loud and clear that citizens are demanding an end to this pandemic, and that is what they deserve. It is the responsibility of leaders of all countries, as duty bearers, to respond to these demands.
The pandemic is not yet over – it is still killing more than 10 000 people every day. Our recommendations are therefore directed first to the immediate measures needed to curb transmission and to begin work now to strengthen future protections. People in many countries continue to suffer successive waves of infection - hospitals have again filled with COVID-19 patients, and families are losing loved ones. The vaccines available are a scientific triumph, but they must now be delivered across the globe. At the time of writing, fewer than one in 100 people in low-income countries had received a first dose – a graphic demonstration of global inequality. As the virus spreads, it is also mutating and creating new challenges.
We must work together to end this pandemic, and we must act urgently to avert the next. Let history show that the leaders of today had the courage to act.
Rt Hon. Helen Clark
H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Mauricio Cárdenas, Aya Chebbi, Mark Dybul, Michel Kazatchkine, Joanne Liu, Precious Matsoso, David Miliband, Thoraya Obaid, Preeti Sudan, Ernesto Zedillo, Zhong Nanshan