Health and Healthcare Systems

Helen Clark: The lessons we need to learn from COVID-19

Helen Clark, Co-Chair of Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response

Clark is a former Prime Minister of New Zealand. Image: World Economic Forum / Boris Bal

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Helen Clark, Co-Chair of Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, explains what we can learn from COVID-19 to prepare for future pandemics.
  • From alert systems to peer reviews, there are multiple recommendations.
  • Internationally coordinated preparation and preparedness will be key.
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Helen Clark, the Co-Chair of Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, joined an Agenda Dialogues session to discuss the work of the panel, its findings and its recommendations for the future.

Here are some of her key quotes.

Things that didn't work during the early stages of the pandemic

"Despite years of warning of pandemic risk, many countries just weren't adequately prepared for an event of this kind."

After the Public Health Emergency of International Concern declaration in February, "it seemed a lot of the world sat and waited, and didn't really use that time to put in place the measures that might have contained the outbreak rather more. And the rest is history with the wide-ranging social and economic crises which have followed with the pandemic."


What is the COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda?

A new surveillance and alert system

We need a "much more rapid and transparent surveillance and alert system". The current system is "not really one that's particularly designed for the digital age."

"The system we need must be based on the most up-to-date tools to be able to detect and report pandemic threats in hours and days, not weeks."

"We are in the 21st century. We're not in the age of a medieval plague, where disease travelled by foot. These infections, pathogens, can be on the next plane and there's no time to waste."

Cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases
Confirmed global cases have passed 120 million. Image: Our World in Data

"The alert must lead to a rapid response by all countries." When the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern "everybody's got to jump."

"The most successful responses have been based on strong leadership from the top in countries, effective whole-of-government coordination, effective communications with the public, and of course societal engagement."


An international, coordinated system

"We need to be thinking about global preparedness and response as a global public good. And that means thinking beyond aid and ODA to how such a global public good is financed."

"There will be a need to have a strong, pre-negotiated system for tools and supplies. Systems have been cobbled together to deal with COVID [...] We can learn from this and put more permanent systems in place."

"Multilateralism hasn't been so strong in recent years, but when we're faced with a clear and present danger to every human being, the world has to come together, and come together now, around a stronger system to support preparedness and response, find resources for it, encourage the maximum possible cooperation among countries in sharing information and sharing the burden of containing infectious disease."


"At the panel, we think the whole issue of pandemic preparedness needs to be lifted above the level of international health regulation focal points, in the low levels of bureaucracies of health in nations, liaising through the WHO. We have to lift this to the attention of heads of state and governments. Not only at home but also at the global level."

"We probably need some kind of peer review system of national preparedness systems to keep us all on our mark."

Read more key quotes from the session or watch the whole thing back here.

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