The buck stops with WHO

A year and a half after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed over 33 lakh lives and infected more than 16 crore people worldwide so far, an international panel has observed that the global catastrophe was preventable. The inescapable question is: who all are responsible for failing to prevent it? The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) has stated in its report that the delayed declaration of an international health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO), coupled with various governments’ tardy response to the warnings, caused the virus to spread around the globe in no time.

Indeed, the WHO hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in these challenging times. During the early months of the pandemic, the UN agency kept insisting that mask-wearing was not recommended for the general public. It was only in June last year that the global body reversed its stand on this crucial matter. Though there were telltale signs that the virus was of Chinese origin, the WHO preferred to walk a diplomatic tightrope, sparking allegations that it was going soft on China. A probe into the origins of the coronavirus materialised as late as January this year when China finally allowed a team of international experts to visit Wuhan, Covid’s original epicentre. The investigation, however, proved to be a damp squib as the world didn’t get any conclusive answers.

The IPPPR has stressed the need for empowering the WHO to send investigators at short notice to track down new disease outbreaks and publish their findings without delay. This recommendation is in itself an admission of the global organisation’s incapacity to take decisive action. The report comes ahead of the May 24-June 1 meeting of the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body. The 194 member states need to go beyond discussing the panel’s findings and suggestions. What’s needed is consensus on promptly initiating reforms to transform the global pandemic preparedness and response system, starting with pushing the WHO to put its own house in order. All the deliberations will be of no consequence if the world remains ill-equipped to stave off another Covid-like apocalypse.

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