On September 14, The Lancet published an article defining the global response to COVID-19 as “a massive global failure at multiple levels”. Faced with this publication, the WHO has responded by stating that the report presents “omissions and misinterpretations”.

The article states that, according to estimated data on infections and deaths by the Institute for Health Metrics and Health Evaluation (IHME) “this staggering death toll is both a profound tragedy and a massive global failure at multiple levels”.

Throughout the publication, reference is made to the various deficiencies committed by the different countries. Among them:

1) The lack of timely notification of the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

2) Costly delay in acknowledging the crucial airborne exposure pathway of SARS-CoV-2 and in implementing appropriate measures at national and global levels to slow the spread of the virus.

3) The lack of coordination among countries regarding suppression strategies.

4) The failure of governments to examine evidence and adopt best practices for controlling the pandemic and managing economic and social spillovers from other countries.

5) The shortfall of global funding for low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs), as classified by the World Bank.

6) The failure to ensure adequate global supplies and equitable distribution of key commodities, especially for low and middle income countries.

7) The lack of timely, accurate, and systematic data on infections, deaths, viral variants, health system responses, and indirect health consequences.

8) The poor enforcement of appropriate levels of biosafety regulations in the lead-up to the pandemic, raising the possibility of a laboratory-related outbreak.

9) The failure to combat systematic disinformation.

10) The lack of global and national safety nets to protect populations experiencing vulnerability.

According to the authors of the article we are commenting on, this report’s primary objective is to promote and highlight the importance of the cooperation of the UN Member States, multilateral agencies and institutions, and multilateral processes such as the G20 and G7 (a group comprising countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey).

In this way, they aim to reduce and prevent future global threats and emergencies and to achieve the agreed objectives of sustainable development, human rights and peace, which governments have pledged to pursue as members of the UN.

Policy recommendations

On the other hand, the report presents some political recommendations. These are primarily focused on WHO’s multilateral cooperation to address global health crises, investments for future health crises through national health systems, international financing and cooperation with low-income regions.

According to the article published in The Lancet, “the lack of ambition in the global response to COVID-19 is like that of other pressing global challenges, such as the climate emergency; the loss of global biodiversity; the pollution…”.

“We call for all countries, especially the richest and most powerful, to support, sustain and bolster the work of the UN system. We call for awareness of the benefits of multilateralism, solidarity, cooperation, and the shared commitment to sustainable development, whether facing pandemics, ending poverty, keeping the peace, or meeting global environmental challenges. We strongly support the UN Secretary-General’s call for a new Common Agenda, and urge member states to engage in its implementation constructively and swiftly.”

“We encourage member states to enrich their deliberations and decisions with the voices of civil society, the private sector, local governments, parliaments, academia and Young people, among others. We note the timeliness of recommitting to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN’s moral charter, as we celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2023.”

Faced with the statements in the report, the WHO has responded by stating that “there are several key omissions and misinterpretations in the report, not least regarding the public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and the speed and scope of WHO’s actions.”

Despite this, the Organization has aligned with some recommendations: “As we are a learning organization, we established a dashboard of recommendations from these initiatives and others to track their implementation by WHO and others.”

The WHO has answered that “The Commission does not, however, convey the full arc of WHO’s immediate, multi-year, life-saving response”; enumerating a list of key dates of its proceeding. Furthermore, it states that “WHO played, and continues to play, a vital role in getting COVID-19 tools to countries in need”, adding “The pandemic is not over, though the end is in sight, and WHO continues its response, while laying a stronger foundation for the future.”

On the other hand, the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, responds that most of the proposals were already mentioned by previous studies, most of which “are already being put into practice.” In addition, he lists some of these measures such as the launch in Berlin of the WHO Information Center on Pandemics and Epidemics or the mRNA Technology Transfer Center in South Africa, where technology is being shared with 15 recipient countries, among others.

Dr. Ghebreyesus adds that they are very concerned about a number of issues not mentioned in the report and some errors in it regarding the work done by WHO. In this regard, he states that they are going to send the Commission a written response.

Julio Tudela and Paloma Aznar

Bioethics Observatory – Institute of Life Sciences

Catholic University of Valencia


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