Dubai: The director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday issued a stark warning about the looming threat of a next pandemic during his speech at the World Governments Summit 2024 in Dubai and asked countries to deliver the ‘Pandemic Agreement’ to contain future outbreaks efficiently.
Speaking on ‘A Pact with the Future: Why the Pandemic Agreement is Mission-Critical for Humanity’, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recalled how he had warned the world six years ago at the WGS 2018 that a pandemic could happen anytime and that the world was not prepared.
Dr Tedros said: “As you remember, less than two years later, in December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and indeed, the world was not prepared. Today, I stand before you in the aftermath of COVID-19, with millions of people dead, with social, economic, and political shocks, that reverberate to this day.”
Despite some progress, including enhanced surveillance and vaccine production, he pointed out that the world remains ill-prepared for future pandemics.
“The painful lessons we learned are in danger of being forgotten, as attention turns to many other crises confronting our world. But if we fail to learn those lessons, we will pay dearly next time. And there will be a next time. History teaches us that the next pandemic is a matter of when not if,” said Dr Tedros.
“The next pandemic may be caused by an influenza virus or a new Coronavirus or it may be caused by a new pathogen we don’t even know about yet, or what we call Disease X… COVID-19 was a Disease X, a new pathogen causing a new disease. But there will be another Disease X or a Disease Y or a Disease Z and as things stand, the world remains unprepared for the next Disease X and the next pandemic. If it struck tomorrow, we would face many of the same problems we faced with COVID 19.”
Reflecting on the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said it was for this reason that in December 2021, WHO’s member states met in Geneva and agreed to develop an international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response, a legally binding pact to work together to keep themselves and each other safe. Countries set themselves a deadline to complete the agreement in time for adoption for the World Health Assembly in May of this year.
Reminding that it is just 15 weeks away, Dr Tedros urged countries to prioritise the completion and adoption of the international agreement.
Rubbishing misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the agreement as lies, Dr Tedros clarified that it does not grant WHO any power over sovereign states. Instead, it reaffirms national sovereignty and encourages collaboration among countries to bolster health systems and share vital resources.
He urged policymakers and leaderships to seize the opportunity to safeguard the health and well-being of future generations, highlighting the importance of collective responsibility in building a healthier, safer, and fairer world.
“Now is the time to say no to inequity, no to lies and misinformation. And yes to international cooperation, yes to equity and yes to solidarity,” he said.
Thanking the UAE
Dr Tedros took the opportunity to thank the UAE leadership for giving health a prominent place in the climate agenda during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) that was held in Dubai last year.
“It was the first of its kind and thank you UAE for being a pathfinder. 147 countries signed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health, recognising that the climate crisis is a health crisis.”
He thanked the UAE also for its support for the WHO global logistics hub in Dubai, saying it has become an essential part of the WHO’s operational response to health emergencies around the world.
“Last year, we distributed medical supplies for 50 million people in emergency situations in 81 countries in every region of the world...Since the hub opened in 2015 in Dubai, it has expanded seven fold from 3000 to 20,000 square metres,” the director-general added.