Better WHO funding needed to fight future pandemics, says chief scientist Swaminathan

World Health Organisation Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan

World Health Organisation (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan on Thursday warned that the next pandemic was not an “if” but a “when”, and it could be waiting to happen anytime. The pandemic has shown that a health security threat can be as bad as any other kind of security threat for the country and also for the world, Swaminathan said. There is a need to strengthen WHO so that it has the capacity, infrastructure and resources to be able to monitor, go into countries and inspect and provide early advance warning. All this would need an increase in the predictable funding of the WHO and a high level of political commitment, the scientist said.

This would become clear at the G-20 meeting of finance ministers and heads of state, and show what kind of commitment they were willing to make and work together to address, she said. Pandemics could not be addressed one country at a time and would call for global agreement on governance and financing and some sort of pandemic treaty. An independent mechanism of financing is needed so that as soon as there is a pandemic, the financing can come into play, she said.

The private sector would develop drugs, diagnostics and vaccines but the governments would have to provide stewardship, finance, enable procurement and ensure equitable distribution at a national and global level, Swaminathan said. She was speaking at the Pune Security Dialogue on National Security organised by the Pune International Centre, The Tribune Trust, The Policy Perspectives Foundation of Delhi and the Centre for Advanced Strategic Studies. The theme of the meet was ‘National security preparedness in the age of disasters and pandemics’.

Two years into the pandemic, there have been 5 million documented and notified deaths with lots of families impacted by deaths, the diseases and also economic disruptions, she said.

Early warning and surveillance was critically important at the national level and countries would need a network of laboratories that were connected and worked at a different level. Globally, diagnostics was not prioritised but it is clear now that it was important for health security, she said. Further, there were issues with the supply chains, production of even basic necessities such as masks, gloves, drugs, oxygen, diagnostics and vaccines, which had to be addressed.

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