Countries have come together to recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic will not be the last global health emergency and to outline the need for sustainable emergency preparedness to deal with the next one.
Participant countries at the recent United Nations General Assembly event, ‘Sustainable preparedness for health security and resilience: Adopting a whole-of-society approach and breaking the “panic-then-forget” cycle’, hosted by Finland, France, Indonesia, and the World Health Organization (WHO), spoke of their commitment to health emergency preparedness.
Past crises have shown that once an outbreak is under control, governments and donors tend to turn their attention to other pressing concerns, preventing the development of effective health emergency preparedness across the globe.
The globe has now reached over a million COVID-19 deaths and many more are expected. The event highlighted that, following pandemics, governments quickly turn their attention to other concerns.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, called for investing in preparedness, with an ‘all-of-government’ and ‘all-of-society approach’. “Over the years we have had many reports, reviews and recommendations all saying the same thing: the world is not prepared for a pandemic. COVID-19 has laid bare the truth: when the time came, the world was still not ready.
“This will not be the last pandemic, nor the last global health emergency. But with the right political and financial investments now, we can advance health security, prevent, and mitigate future pandemics, and protect our future and the future of generations to come.”
Preparing for the future
The event marked a crucial dialogue among countries, donors, and partners on creating better emergency preparedness during the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond. It follows the release of a report by the Global Preparedness and Monitoring Board that also called for urgent action in this area.
Päivi Sillanaukee, Ambassador for Health and Wellbeing, Republic of Finland, said: “We know that preparedness makes economic sense, and we have developed tools and models for multi-sectoral cooperation. Learning from the pandemic and building on the previous progress should guide our steps to strengthen Health Security and thus help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
“There is an urgent need to leverage the response to COVID-19 to build, maintain and strengthen sustainable public health capacities for emergency preparedness […] France firmly believes that preparedness deserves to be placed much higher on the foreign policy agenda and we are willing to foster cooperation among Member States to ensure the continued visibility of this topic, whether here in Geneva or at the UNGA in New York,” said Stéphanie Seydoux, Ambassador for Global Health, French Republic.
The President of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Francesco Rocca, noted that his organisation had learned from working with its network of responders in 192 countries that there is an urgent need to invest in preparedness at the community level, to “promote humanitarian action to be as local as possible, as global as necessary […]” and called on governments, partners, and donors to invest in preparedness at the community level to save lives and alleviate suffering in the next inevitable emergency.”
The role of parliaments and the importance of a multi-sectoral approach was highlighted along with the importance of the role played by partner organisations in country and global preparedness and financing.
Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said: “We cannot, cannot, cannot let the world forget because the next one may not be anything but the worst one. This (COVID-19) may just be a harbinger of what may come, we are living with too much risk.”