Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark Warns of Global Pandemic Unpreparedness

The world remains inadequately prepared for another potential pandemic, according to former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. Clark, who co-chaired the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, voiced her concerns following the U.N. General Assembly’s high-level summit, which aimed to address future pandemic prevention. However, the summit’s outcome, a 13-page declaration adopted by 193 member nations, left many pandemic experts, including Clark, disappointed.

Clark, now a member of The Elders, a group of former world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, emphasized that the declaration’s primary focus on health was insufficient. While the COVID-19 pandemic claimed approximately 24 million lives, it also significantly set back U.N. goals for 2030 across various areas, including poverty reduction, education, and gender equality. Clark also highlighted the catastrophic economic consequences of the pandemic, resulting in a $25 trillion loss to the global economy and increased debt in many developing nations.

Despite the majority of summit speakers being health ministers, Clark argued that pandemics affect multiple aspects of people’s lives and government operations, necessitating a broader perspective. She noted that the declaration should have considered these overarching impacts.

The adopted declaration did emphasize the importance of preparing for future pandemics, with a “Call to Action” committing countries to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. It called for international cooperation, equitable access to vaccines, and high-level attention across various sectors.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the U.N. World Health Organization, praised the declaration as a historic milestone and welcomed leaders’ commitment to strengthening global health emergency response.

However, The Pandemic Action Network, consisting of over 350 organizations focused on pandemic prevention, expressed disappointment with the compromise text, calling it a missed opportunity for leaders to make ambitious commitments and establish accountability.

Clark and others also criticized the absence of many world leaders at the summit, as most sent their health ministers. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who attempted to coordinate a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, emphasized the need to avoid repeating past mistakes, including a lack of preparedness and vaccine hoarding.

Clark reiterated the panel’s recommendation for strong leadership and the establishment of a global health threats council appointed by the General Assembly. Such a council would ensure ongoing political momentum, preparedness, response, and financing for global health crises.

Guterres has called world leaders to a “Summit of the Future” next September, where the idea of a leader-level body for complex emergencies will be discussed. However, Clark stressed the importance of addressing multiple emergency types, including pandemics, food security, and climate crises, to effectively prepare for the future.

Currently, the world appears to be trapped in a cycle of panic and neglect, with inadequate preparations for future pandemics. Clark warned that if another pandemic were to strike tomorrow, the world would remain ill-prepared, potentially even worse off.

Source: USNEWS

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