World dangerously unprepared for next pandemic: monitor

Medical staff wear Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) during a COVID-19 screening at the dedicated facility of the civil hospital in Nashik.

AFP/Indranil Mukherjee

GENEVA - As the world grapples with the devastating coronavirus pandemic, it is doing far too little to prepare for future, possibly even more damaging pandemics, a global health monitor warned.  

In a fresh report, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), an independent body created by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, decried that the coronavirus pandemic had revealed how little the world had focused on preparing for such disasters, despite ample warnings that large disease outbreaks were inevitable.

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"The COVID-19 pandemic is providing a harsh test of the world’s preparedness," the report said, concluding that little progress had been made on any of the actions it had called for in its initial report last year before COVID-19 struck.

"Failure to learn the lessons of COVID-19 or to act on them with the necessary resources and commitment will mean that the next pandemic, which is sure to come, will be even more damaging," it warned.

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Gro Harlem Brundtland, GPMB co-chair and a former WHO chief, stressed during the virtual launch of the report Monday that the board had warned a year ago that the world was ill-prepared for a pandemic.

"Tragically and catastrophically we have seen our worst fears realised," she said.

"The impact of COVID-19 is even worse than we anticipated, but actions that we called for last year, have still not been taken."

The report comes as the global death toll from the novel coronavirus nears the one million-mark, out of the close to 30 million known cases since COVID-19 first emerged in China late last year. 

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WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the virtual event that "spending on health and preparedness is not charity. It is an investment in our future".

Tedros stressed that COVID-19 "will not be the last pandemic, nor the last global health emergency".

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"Every day that we stand by and do nothing is a day that brings us closer to the next global health emergency, whether from a disease outbreak, climate change or a natural or self-inflicted disaster," he said.

"We do not know what the next global health emergency will be, but we know it will come, and we must be prepared."