Feature Article

Corona pandemic underscores non-state preparedness on health and development

[TamilNet, Friday, 27 March 2020, 22:40 GMT]
Five years ago, one of the world’s richest billionaire philanthropists used a prestigious opportunity, usually accorded to leading thinkers and doers to deliver the talk of their lives, to warn that the world needed to prioritise preparedness to stop a pandemic. It was March 2015. A month later, UN Secretary-General established the High-level Panel on the Global Response to Health Crises. Another year went as the Panel came with its report to the UN General Assembly. Then, the UN Assembly launched Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) as per the recommendations of the Panel in May 2018. One more year elapsed before the GPMB came with its report in September 2019, three months ahead of the Coronavirus outbreak in China. Countries remained unprepared since the 2014 Ebola-triggered warning was being processed by their trade-union, which was sitting on actionable data and proposals.

It was Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who was giving his TED talk in March 2015, reminding the world governments that they were not ready to face a global catastrophe that could be caused by a highly infectious virus.

The shrewd businessman, who built a successful corporation based on his invention of an operating system for personal computers was investing his efforts in addressing the situation where the world lacked an effective operating structure for preventing epidemics.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) was funded to monitor epidemics, but not to put the world on preparedness, Gates observed in his talk.

“We need to do simulations, germ games, not war games,” he added.

[Source: TED, March 2015]

“Mathematical modelling by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has shown that a virulent strain of an airborne influenza virus could spread to all major global capitals within 60 days and kill more than 33 million people within 250 days,” noted the High-level Panel appointed by the UN Secretary-General in the report issued in February 2016.

The global legal instrument negotiated to ensure early warning and pandemic response, the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR), has only been fully implemented by one-third of its 196 States parties, the report pointed out.

The Panel was convinced that there was “no substitute for having a single global health leader”. The World Health Organization (WHO) should become this leader, it said.

However, the WHO Member States have provided very weak support to WHO, the Panel observed adding that “to date, the emergency response capabilities of WHO have been lacking, and attempts at reforming the organization have been largely unsuccessful”.

“If WHO does not successfully reform, the next major pandemic will cause thousands of otherwise preventable deaths. This may be the last opportunity to ensure that WHO is empowered to build an effective emergency preparedness and response capacity with the necessary political leadership. Another failure to perform may necessitate the consideration of alternate United Nations institutional response mechanisms,” the report noted in February 2016.

The report proposed 27 recommendations. The recommendations were categorised into national, regional and international levels.

Furthermore, the Panel urged the WHO to build a new centre for emergency preparedness and requested all countries to meet the full obligations of 2005 IHR and offer appropriate financing.

The Panel also recognised that community engagement was crucial in a health crisis response, and it didn’t fail to identify the prevailing trust deficit.

“[C]ommunity sensitisation efforts were frequently one-sided, conveying messages rather than acknowledging the legitimacy of local concerns and engaging with local populations to address them.”

“These challenges were exacerbated by a lack of trust between local communities and the central Government and foreigners, which in turn hindered behaviour change programmes carried out by government representatives or international actors. The situation led to the emergence of so-called community resistance, in which some communities passively, actively and, in a few cases, violently sought to avoid cooperating with health workers,” the Panel noted.

The Panel was of the view that national and international responders should develop mechanisms to engage local communities systematically in crisis preparedness and response measures in the future.

However, the Panel didn’t pay specific attention to the ‘communities’ that were systematically neglected and discriminated by the states and those subjected to protracted genocide by the State actors claiming ‘sovereignty’ over their traditional homelands. That was of course, out of the scope of the Panel appointed by the trade-union of the State actors.

Two years later, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), which was co-convened by the World Health Organization and the World Bank Group and formally launched in May 2018 as an independent monitoring and accountability body to ensure preparedness for global health crises, came with its report in September 2019.

[Source: GPMB, 16 January, 2020]

In its first report, the GPMB warned that epidemic-prone diseases like Ebola, influenza and SARS were “increasingly difficult to manage in the face of prolonged conflict, fragile states, and forced migration”.

Apart from the Government of Germany, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and Resolve to Save Lives were the non-governmental organisations that provided financial support to the GPMB. The fifteen-member Board is led by Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, formerly Prime Minister of Norway and Director-General of the World Health Organization and Mr Elhadj As Sy, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The report of the Board called for seven urgent actions, and one of them was urging “countries, donors and multilateral institutions to prepare for worst-case scenario of a fast-moving pandemic due to a virulent respiratory pathogen by scaling-up research and development for new vaccines and medicines, surge manufacturing capacity and rapid information sharing systems.”

[Source: GPMB at World Health Summit, 16 January, 2020]

However, even the GPMB’s focus remained mainly on heads of governments, G7, G20 and G77 member countries, regional intergovernmental organisations, the IMF, World Bank Group and development assistance funders.

While the GPMB aims to advocate at the highest levels so that commitments to preparedness remain high on the political agenda, the peoples and nations without a state of their own, particularly those subjected to discrimination and protracted genocide at the hands of the occupying State actors, should focus on evolving a preparedness model fit for their situations without relying upon state-centric mechanisms.

Similarly, while recognising the role of corporate-led foundations working closely with the high-level actors, the personalities and movements with the spirit of an open-source culture, which successfully challenged the corporate actors such as Microsoft, should come forward to support the stateless communities, peoples and nations without a state, to successfully face the challenges posed by the pandemics as well as the states-centric new world order.

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External Links:
International Institute for Sustainable Development: Panel Makes Recommendations on Health Crises, Health-Related SDGs
AFP: Bill Gates calls for 'germ games' instead of war games
GPMB: Annual Report
Reuters: World at risk of pandemics that could kill millions, panel warns



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