The world is no better prepared for a new pandemic threat than it was when COVID-19 emerged in 2019, and may actually be in a worse place given the economic toll, according to a review panel set up to assess the global response.

A lack of progress on reforms like World Health Organization funding and international health regulations means the world is as vulnerable as ever, the independent Pandemic Preparedness and Response Panel said in its report.

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The report’s authors, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, acknowledged some progress but said the process is on
goes way too slow.

“We currently have the same tools and system as in December 2019 to respond to a pandemic threat.

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And those tools just weren’t good enough,” Clark told reporters.

“If there is a new pandemic threat this year, next year, or at least the year after, we will be largely in the same place…perhaps worse given the tight fiscal space of many, if not most, countries right now.”

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Wednesday’s report from the panel set up by the World Health Organization comes ahead of next week’s World Health Assembly in Geneva, WHO’s annual decision-making forum set to address some of the issues raised.

While the panel welcomed some steps forward, including steps to establish a separate global health security fund within the World Bank, it warned that global interest was waning and that it would take years to set up other instruments — including a potential pandemic treaty, an international agreement to improve readiness – were too long.

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The panel called for a high-level meeting at the UN General Assembly and an independent Health Threats Council led by heads of state to take action.

“Only the highest political leadership has the legitimacy to bring multiple sectors together in this way,” Sirleaf said in a statement.

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