Helen Clark: WHO shouldn’t be ‘crying wolf every other day’

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Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness, Prevention and Response Panel Co-chair Helen Clark. Photo by: UNDP / CC BY-NC-ND

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response’s recommendation to establish a Global Health Threats Council is meant to help, not weaken, the World Health Organization so that the international community is ready for the next crisis, panel co-chair Helen Clark told Devex in an interview on the sidelines of the 74th World Health Assembly.

A body such as the council, which the panel said should be led at the head-of-state level and include civil society and private sector representatives, can help hold countries accountable in meeting WHO targets on national pandemic preparedness and response through a periodic peer review process.

“When people say to me: ‘Well, how about WHO? Isn't it doing its job?’ Absolutely not, because the council is not an operational body. As I said, [the council will provide] oversight, monitoring, [and] accountability, and I think it can be tremendously helpful to WHO,” Clark said.

Clark reiterated the panel’s call to strengthen WHO so that the next time the United Nations agency declares a public health emergency of international concern, the world will spring into action.

“What we don't want is a situation where WHO is crying wolf every other day,” she said.

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WHO was delayed in proclaiming COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern, but a number of countries were also slow in taking action to avert the COVID-19 crisis, Clark said. A new Pandemic Framework Convention that includes explicit language on the responsibilities of states and international organizations could help empower WHO.

Via Youtube.

“When the public health emergency of international concern was declared, most countries didn't do very much,” she said. In February 2020, some countries acted “almost as if they were watching what was happening in [the Chinese city of] Wuhan as if it was on Mars and wouldn't happen to them, forgetting that we’re so globally connected,” she added.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.