“The Independent Panel did not meet the moment”: Guest Essay – A critique of The Independent Panel Report

An Independent Panel for COVID-19 recovery

The Independent Panel tasked by WHO with reviewing the global management of the COVID-19 pandemic has fulfilled its terms of reference. But despite the best efforts of the panelists, it did not meet the moment. The world might still need an Independent Panel — but one that is transparent, accountable and participatory.

This Independent Panel report does summarize many of the issues the world has witnessed in the past 14 months: weak pandemic preparedness, lugubrious bureaucracies, and government passivity. It poetically describes global inequalities, including the stark sacrifices of healthcare workers. However, its narrow recommendations sidestep many of these tough challenges in favor of expanding global governance: a Global Health Threats Council with heads of state, adopting new global statements and treaties, greater funding and authority for WHO, and a massive new $10 billion pandemic financing facility. It calls for countries to unite to establish a new international system for outbreak monitoring and alerts.

Some of these recommendations are sensible, others less likely, but in seeking to avoid assigning blame, the panel ducks accountability, and its vision falls short of the scale of the problems revealed by COVID-19.

The recommendations on vaccine access exemplify this. The panel urges funding for COVAX, a worthy goal; but COVAX’s 20% coverage targets cannot reach global herd immunity and prevent the spread of potentially dangerous new variants, and there is no clear plan for the remaining 80%. The panel called for high-income countries to speedily negotiate an intellectual property waiver and donate 1 billion doses by September 1 to low- and middle-income countries. Given the global need of 10 billion doses today, as Madhu Pai argued in his powerful intervention at the launch event of the report, this is vaccine charity, not vaccine equity. The panel does not address the stark inequalities among countries that have fueled the virus.

Sara (Meg) Davis, Global Health Centre, Graduate Institute, Geneva


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