COVID-19 pandemic will not be the last, WHO chief says

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) photo: Christopher Black / WHO / Reuters
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, photo: Christopher Black / WHO / Reuters

The coronavirus crisis will not be the last pandemic, and attempts to improve human health are “doomed” without tackling climate change and animal welfare, the World Health Organization’s chief said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also condemned the “dangerously short-sighted” cycle of throwing cash at outbreaks but doing nothing to prepare for the next one, in a video message marking Sunday’s first International Day of Epidemic Preparedness.

The WHO director-general said it was time to learn the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s hard to believe that only a year ago, COVID-19 was still completely unknown to us. The impacts of the pandemic go far beyond the disease itself,” he said.

“But none of this should come as a surprise. Over the years there have been many reports, reviews and recommendations all saying the same thing: the world is not prepared for a pandemic,” he continued.

The pandemic has highlighted the intimate links between the health of humans, animals and the planet, Ghebreyesus said. “Any efforts to improve humans health are doomed unless they address the critical interface between humans and animals and the existential threat of climate change that is making our earth less habitable.”

“For too long, the world has operated on a cycle of panic and neglect,” he said. “We throw money at an outbreak, and when it’s over, we forget about it and do nothing to prevent the next one. This is dangerously short-sighted, and frankly difficult to understand.”

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board’s September 2019 first annual report on world readiness for health emergencies, published a few months before the novel coronavirus broke out, said the planet was unprepared for potentially devastating pandemics.

The International Day of Epidemic Preparedness was called for by the United Nations General Assembly to promote the importance of prevention, preparedness and partnership in tackling epidemics.

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