The Member States and all the stakeholders attending this World Health Assembly need no reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to rage around the world. When the Director-General spoke at the opening of the Assembly on 18 May, he conveyed the gravity of the 4.5 million cases reported to WHO. The number now is more than ten times that, and the confirmed count of deaths is well over a million. These numbers speak to a far wider catastrophe of families left bereft; health facilities stretched beyond breaking point; jobs, livelihoods and businesses lost; and economies desperately seeking to adjust to new realities of the pandemic.
Most catastrophes for most people are far-off events, but this pandemic has touched us all. At the first meeting of the Independent Panel, panelists related their personal experiences of the pandemic including the loss of close family members – an experience shared by millions across the globe. It has deepened our resolve to carry out a root and branch review to uncover what could and should have been done better to avert this pandemic, and to propose a plan for all necessary steps to ensure that the world is better prepared in future.
We are very mindful of the words of the resolution passed by the WHA in 19 May, and its desire for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” to “review experience gained and lessons learned” and thus to “make recommendations to improve capacity for global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response”. We will rely on not only Member States but also stakeholders from every level of government, those beyond government, the private sector, scientists, activists and citizens the world over both to inform our investigation, and to commit to action without delay to improve pandemic response and stave off future pandemics more effectively.