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Posts Tagged ‘PHEIC’

We all saw it on TV, and many of us still remember: The Director General of the WHO declaring the SARS-CoV-2 a pandemic on 11TH March 2020. The observation, that carried no legal or official importance, triggered into action most governments and civil society.

Notwithstanding, it was on the 31st of December 2019, that the WHO country offices in China picked up a media statement on cases of “viral pneumonia”. From there on, the WHO had been tirelessly gathering information and giving advice to governments and civil society on how to overcome what was coming.

The single most important tool the WHO has to fight a health emergency is the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The PHEIC is triggered by the International Health Regulations (IHR) of the WHO. On 22-23 January 2020, the WHO Director General convened an IHR Emergency Committee, which on 30th January 2020 declared the coronavirus outbreak a PHEIC. This was the moment when governments should have been taking actions to fight the outbreak.  At that time, 99% of reported cases were in China, while there were only 176 in the rest of the world.

It took the entire month of February and a good part of March for European Governments to take measures to stop the spreading of the virus. The call by the WHO on 3th March 2020, for industry and governments to increase manufacturing of personal protective equipment (PPE) by 40% was mainly ignored. The result was that most governments had to rely on China for PPE, creating a fight among them for the scarce supply.

It is all very nice to look for the scapegoat when things do not go as we expect. The exercise gets into full gear when we can point at somebody outside our jurisdiction. How many times have we blamed the UN for not stopping a war, or the EU for countless evils? Now it is the turn of the WHO. But we forget that National Governments are the masters of those international bodies. National Governments do not like transferring any of their power to an international body. The UN cannot act if the five powers do not agree on the issue. The EU has no jurisdiction over health problems because National Governments are keen on keeping those issues under their wing. And the WHO can trigger the PHEIC but has no power to make governments abide by its recommendations, or even to collect data once the PHEIC is declared. So it cannot follow up on the emergency and can only guess what is going on.

If only we could learn from the Covid-19 pandemic and realize that some problems are better solved with international collaboration, maybe something positive will have come from this ordeal.

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