The World Health Organization was poorly prepared to prevent a disease like Covid-19 from becoming a pandemic, and wasn’t adapted for a globalized era of easy travel and extensive trade, an international panel said.
Years of warnings that the United Nations agency’s international system wasn’t ready for a respiratory pandemic went unheeded, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, a co-chairwoman of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, said.
Ms. Clark is leading a panel that was set up last year, after a group of governments, organized by Australia, pushed for an investigation into how a virus first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan managed to spread and claim two million lives.
The panel’s preliminary findings, presented to the WHO on Tuesday, puts less blame on individual decisions taken by the agency’s leaders than on the weak international bureaucracy they inherited. Global health laws requiring countries rapidly share all pertinent information on an emerging threat “lacked teeth,” one of the panelists said. Complex bureaucratic rules, created to prevent the WHO from taking hasty decisions that could hurt the global economy, meant that several weeks were lost before the agency could declare Covid-19 an international public health emergency, Ms. Clark said.
“Viruses move in minutes and hours, rather than days and weeks, especially in the highly mobile and interconnected world of today,” said Ms. Clark. “The international system for alert and response has the trappings of an analogue system in a digital age.”