‘Preventable’ virus costs 17,000 health workers’ lives globally

May 17, 2021

At least 17,000 health workers died in the past year as the world reacted too slowly to the “preventable” COVID-19 pandemic, a new World Health Organisation report has found.

COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic, captures the findings of a WHO independent panel co-chaired by former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The pandemic was a preventable disaster, the report says, and the panel has called for a new system of preparedness and response.

“Years of warnings of an inevitable pandemic threat were not acted on and there was inadequate funding and stress testing of preparedness, despite the increasing rate at which zoonotic diseases are emerging,” the report said.

Clinicians in Wuhan were quick to spot a cluster of pneumonia cases of an unknown origin in December 2019, it said.  However formal notification and emergency declaration procedures under international health regulations were “too slow”.

Then, too many countries took a “wait and see” attitude, even after the January 30, 2020, declaration of a public health emergency of international concern.

An aggressive containment strategy in these countries could have prevented a global pandemic, the report said.

“Countries with delayed responses were also characterized by a lack of coordination, inconsistent or non-existent strategies, and the devaluing of science in guiding decision-making.”

The pandemic widened disparities for women, and vulnerable and marginalised communities.

Health impacts were compounded for people with underlying health conditions; education for millions of the most disadvantaged children was terminated early by the pandemic.

The report said COVID-19 killed at least 17,000 health workers globally in the last year.

The “stalwart” efforts of health workers was tagged as one of the main strengths that future responses could be built on.

Other strengths included the fact that a country’s wealth was not a predictor of success against the virus; and the “unprecedented” speed that vaccines were developed.

The report called for immediate action including commitment by wealthy nations to share vaccine supplies with low and middle income nations.

It called for vaccine-producing nations and manufacturers to ease intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.

To stop future pandemics, the report called for boosting the independence, authority and funding of the WHO.

It recommended an international pandemic financing facility – offering nations money for preparedness and “rapid surge” funding in the case of a regional pandemic outbreak.

Heads of state or governments should appoint national pandemic coordinators to drive a whole-of-government response to any future pandemics.