The world must do better on Covid
A new report on pandemic response shows glaring missteps. Lessons must be learnt fast
Some of the world’s top health experts, writing as part of the Lancet Commission in a report released this week, blamed governments the world over for “widespread, global failures” in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The report said global leaders needed to face “hard truths” that they failed to adhere to basic norms, rationality, and transparency, and that nations failed to collaborate meaningfully to tackle the emergency.
The report was also particularly damning of the World Health Organization (WHO) for not declaring a public health emergency on time, for faltering to include a warning about the virus’s human transmissibility, and for not recognising the airborne spread of the virus in time. On India’s handling, it said that variants such as Delta and massive crowd events proved devastating. It also said that based on seropositivity surveys, both the number of infections and deaths in the country were likely to be “vastly higher” than what has been officially reported. The criticism was met with quick rebuttals. On Thursday, the WHO said the report contained “several key omissions and misinterpretations” regarding the speed and scope of the body’s actions. Indian officials have maintained that there was no underreporting of Covid-19 deaths.
In underlining some glaring flaws in the pandemic response, the report lays out some key lessons moving forward: Quick and clear global responses are important, vaccine development and scientific progress need to be followed by efforts to ensure equitable access, policymaking must be guided solely by science, and public messaging should be unambiguous and evidence-based. Global bodies should start working on ways to dissuade policymakers from various nations from instinctively hoarding shots and create new pathways so that medicines and shots can flow into poorer, less-developed regions of the world and “vaccine nationalism” doesn’t blight the battle against another disease in the future. What is important to note is that this is not a moment to apportion blame — after all, the report has the benefit of hindsight, and in the chaos and confusion of the early months of the pandemic, with scientists scrambling to understand the virus, there was little clarity on the right path — but to take lessons and apply them in earnest to the next big health emergency, or the many exigencies that afflict the world today.
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