A new report released by the Lancet Commission on 'lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic' looked at the past two years, in retrospect, to analyse what the world did wrong as far as the global efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic goes.
The report made a special mention of the astounding 17.2 million estimated deaths from COVID-19 across the world, which it called a "profound tragedy and a massive global failure at multiple levels."
Responding to this report on 15 September, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement, saying that it 'welcomes the overarching recommendations,' while at the same time pointing out a few 'misinterpretations' in the report.
Let's break down what the report revealed about the world's COVID-19 pandemic management and the fixes it proposed in case of another pandemic in the future.
What We Got Wrong: Key Points From the Report
Too slow to take action:
According to the report, the WHO moved "too cautiously" and "too slowly" at key points during the pandemic.
For instance, the report said, there was a bit of dallying before the illness was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), before travel restrictions and safety protocols were enforced, and before the public use of masks was encouraged.
There was also a delay in communicating that the virus can spread through airborne transmission.
This lack of urgency, the report said, led to a delay in implementing appropriate measures at national and global levels to slow the spread of the virus.
Not enough transparency:
"Too many governments have failed to adhere to basic norms of institutional rationality and transparency," read the report.
There was also a lack of timely, accurate, and systematic data on infections, deaths, viral variants, health system responses, and indirect health consequences – all of which fuelled the spread of misinformation to an extent, the Lancet Commission found.
Not enough international cooperation:
The report pointed to a lack of coordination between countries on their strategies.
"The world's major powers have failed to collaborate to control the pandemic."Lancet Commision's COVID-19 report
According to the Lancet Commission, the lack of cooperation and 'excessive nationalism,' is particularly evident in the inequitable allocation of testing kits, medicines, and vaccines from multinational pharmaceutical companies as well as the support for vaccine production in lower middle income countries (LMICs).
Failure to curb misinformation:
Health authorities around the world were unsuccessful in curbing the spread of misinformation that further fuelled vaccine hesitancy and a reluctance to adhere to public safety norms like masking mandates and self-isolation.
The other shortcomings highlighted by the report are:
Governments failed to adopt best practices and policies, not only to control the spread of the disease but also to minimise the social and economical fallout of such a long-drawn-out pandemic.
The pandemic threw light on callousness in the enforcement of biosafety regulations in labs, leading to laboratory-related outbreaks.
The pandemic also revealed poor preparedness and an overall lack of global and national safety nets to protect vulnerable populations.
Lessons for the Future: Lancet Commission’s Recommendations
More efficient testing and vaccinating needed:
A system for mass vaccination, affordable testing, and treatment for new infections and long COVID-19 (test and treat) must be put in place, the report said.
"A vaccination-plus strategy with the goal of protecting populations should be implemented on a sustainable basis, rather than as a reactive policy that is abruptly turned on and off."Lancet Commision's COVID-19 report
We need better global coordination and cooperation:
Governments must coordinate on the regulation of domestic animal and wild animal trade and take stronger measures against dangerous practices, it added.
The report further recommended that there needs to be a stronger network of global surveillance as well as sharing of data, intellectual property, and resources like vaccines, testing kits, and medicines.
WHO should be strengthened:
The report recommended that the core budget allocated to the WHO should be substantially increased.
Moreover, it also suggested that other centres of global health policy should not be established as it would undermine the central role of the WHO.
National healthcare systems must be strengthened:
One of the major shortfalls of many low and middle income countries during the pandemic was their public healthcare infrastructures that couldn't tackle a pandemic because they were lacking in resources to begin with.
"Strong public health systems should include strong relationships with local communities and community organisations; surveillance and reporting systems; robust medical supply chains."Lancet Commision's COVID-19 report
Countries should also increase investments in research to develop and implement more effective interventions for disease prevention and emergency preparedness.
Effective health communication strategies to combat disinformation must be formutated.
Community health workers and community-based organisations should be well-trained and supported.
Countries should have their own national pandemic preparedness plan in place with improved surveillance and monitoring.
The report also pushed for universal health coverage, especially where primary healthcare is concerned.
Responding to the Lancet Commission's report on early Thursday morning, the WHO said that the recommendations in the report "align with our commitment to stronger global, regional and national pandemic preparedness, prevention, readiness and response."
The WHO underscored the report's recommendations to increase the UN agency's core budget and the need to focus on sustainable financing for low and middle income countries.
The WHO was also in agreement with the report's observation that 'excessive nationalism,' and reluctance to share intellectual property drove vaccine inequality between high and low income countries.
However, it refuted the Lancet Commission's assessment of the speed and scope of the WHO’s actions, saying that the report carried many 'missinterpretations' and 'key omissions'.
According to the WHO, the report underplayed how seriously the global health body took the pandemic and, the health authority supplemented a list of actions taken by it since the outbreak was first declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
The Future of the COVID-19 Pandemic
As far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, the WHO, for the first time, has said that 'the end is in sight.'
While experts are in agreement that we aren't getting rid of COVID-19 any time soon and that we will have to make peace with the possibility of ripples and waves of the illness in the future, the optimistic forecast by the WHO has been welcomed by them.
On Wednesday, 14 September, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a press conference, "We are not there yet. But the end is in sight."
However, he also warned that this doesn't mean that we can let out guards down just yet.
Comparing the pandemic to a marathon race, Ghebreyesus said, "Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work."