Is Evaluating COVID-19 About the WHO or Country Responses?
Striking the right balance in membership and terms of reference is challenging for the evaluation panel set up to examine the coordinated international health response to coronavirus.
Examining the global response of indivudual countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) to coronavirus. Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.
When the resolution was passed by World Health Organization (WHO) member states at the World Health Assembly(opens in new window) (WHA) in May requesting an evaluation ‘at the earliest appropriate moment’ of lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19, it was generally thought the appropriate moment would be when the pandemic was on the wane.
Yet the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has actually been established at a time when - as noted by WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in his announcement of the panel – the pandemic is still accelerating.
In most of the world the virus is not under control, and cases have actually doubled in the last six weeks. So why now?
Emphasis on global solidarity
Throughout the pandemic so far, Dr Tedros has emphasised two main points – the need for urgent action by countries, and the imperative need for global solidarity. In announcing the panel, he said this is the ‘defining crisis of our age’ and that ‘we cannot defeat this pandemic as a divided world … the COVID-19 pandemic is a test of global solidarity and global leadership’.
He may well see establishing the panel now - when the pandemic still has a long way to run - as an opportunity to reinforce messages which have hitherto seemed to fall on deaf ears, notably saying ‘we are in the midst of the battle of our lives, and we have to do better’. And he has also said that we should learn lessons now that will be useful in the continuing fight against the pandemic.
Establishing both the membership of the panel and its terms of reference has been left largely in the hands of the co-chairs – distinguished ex-politicians Helen Clark of New Zealand and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. But they will have to construct the panel in close consultation with member states on the basis of their proposals for membership – a process that will likely be fraught by the divisive politics which have already so upset Dr Tedros.
In addition, embedded in the mandate from the WHA resolution is the phrase ‘WHO-coordinated international health response’ – negotiated language which is intentionally ambiguous and reveals an unresolved tension.
Does it mean the panel should principally focus on WHO’s performance, which is what several countries – including the US – want to see? Or should it give at least equal weight to the way countries have responded individually and collectively, as Dr Tedros and the WHO may want to see?
These different interpretations mean both the construction of the panel and its terms of reference could be highly contentious. Most countries, including China and the US but also others, will not want their responses to be subjected to independent investigation. Nor will they want to include panel members likely to be critical of their responses. This suggests the possibility that there will be political pressure to focus the enquiry principally on the performance of WHO rather than that of countries – an outcome Dr Tedros would not welcome.
It remains to be seen how the co-chairs will manage these highly political issues, and avoid the panel becoming an extension of ‘pandemic politics’ by other means. Can it come to definitive conclusions in the midst of a pandemic and, if so, how likely are they to be heeded?
It is also highly likely that several other reviews will be launched, wholly independently of oversight by WHO and its member states, as happened following the 2014 Ebola outbreak. This provides opportunities for a variety of perspectives on both the performance of WHO, and of individual countries.
Already, The Lancet has announced its own Commission on COVID-19 with a broad mandate covering both the health and economic responses to the pandemic. Both this and the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response are likely to be only the first of many COVID-19 reviews.
Latest News from
Elections in Côte d’Ivoire: President Ouattara’s Dilemma30/07/2020 09:20:00
After the sudden death of Côte d’Ivoire’s Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, President Ouattara is now deciding whether to stand for a third term. However, such a move would face challenges internationally, and particularly in West Africa.
Russia’s Behaviour Risks Weaponizing Outer Space28/07/2020 14:20:00
With negotiations in Vienna between the US and Russia hoping to prevent the weaponization of space, how much do Russia’s satellites pose a threat to the peaceful use of outer space, ask Beyza Unal and Mathieu Boulègue?
The UK’s Huawei Decision: Why the West is Losing the Tech Race21/07/2020 12:20:00
On 5G and the technological race, the answer is a visionary rather than a reactive approach and, so far, the West has opted for the latter.
EU Budget Battle Could Undermine its International Ambitions20/07/2020 15:48:00
EU’s heated budget negotiations risk producing a compromise at the expense of its longer-term international agenda.
Emerging Economies: Where is the Debt Problem?20/07/2020 09:20:00
Just two months ago it appeared self-evident that emerging economies faced a devastating inability to service their foreign debt, mostly denominated in dollars. That has turned out to be wrong, for now at least.
Economy Must Not Get Stuck Between Lockdown and Recovery06/07/2020 13:38:00
Despite recent outbreaks in several countries which had appeared to be close to excluding the virus, focusing on suppression and elimination is the best economic as well as health strategy.
Revitalizing Resilience is a Tough but Vital Political Challenge30/06/2020 09:20:00
COVID-19 has been an eye-opener in highlighting significant discrepancies in crisis planning and preparedness at every level. Political leaders must deliver greater public understanding and support of the concept of resilience.
The Hotel Majestic and the Origins of Chatham House29/06/2020 16:25:00
One hundred years ago, Lionel Curtis first proposed the idea of an institute of international affairs. Katharina Rietzler takes us back to this important moment in the history of Chatham House.