Madame Ellen Sirleaf Johnson (294918)
Credit: GIN photo

The World Health Organization has announced that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s former president, and Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister, are to head a panel to review the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Mmes. Johnson Sirleaf and Clark will head the newly formed Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. The announcement follows the Trump administration’s formal notification to the U.N. on Monday of its withdrawal from WHO, which won’t take effect until July 6, 2021 with a possibility of reversal by a new administration or changed circumstances. 

Sirleaf led Liberia during the Ebola epidemic that began in 2014, when more than 11,000 people were infected with the virus and died. New Zealand has been lauded as a success story for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The World Health body’s chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said it was time to reflect and to strengthen collaboration in order to contain the pandemic. “Through you, the world will understand the truth of what happened and also the solutions to build our future better as one humanity,” the AFP news agency quoted Dr Tedros as saying. 

“I cannot Imagine two more strong-minded, independent leaders to help guide us through this critical learning process to help us understand what happened––an honest assessment and to help us understand also what we should do to prevent such a tragedy in the future,” the world health leader said. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been under pressure for some time to review its handling of the pandemic. It has faced criticism, most notably from the United States, that it was slow to respond to the initial outbreak in China; the evaluation announced by the WHO will look not just at the WHO’s response, but at the response of individual countries as well. 

According to WHO’s announcement, the panel will operate independently and they will choose other panel members as well as members of an independent secretariat to provide support. They are expected to deliver an interim report in November and a “substantive” report to the World Health Assembly—the WHO’s governing body—at its 2021 meeting next May.