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Preventing future pandemics and reforming the UN Security Council

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Photo: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf reflects on the recent report by the IPPPR and what is needed to ensure its recommendations are meaningfully acted upon by world leaders and international institutions.

Dear friends,

This pandemic is far from over, despite speedy vaccination programmes in many countries that have prompted a brighter outlook on the future.  

The heart-breaking reports from South Asia strongly reaffirm my view that the threat of COVID-19 cannot be eliminated nationally, or even regionally. It will not be over until everyone is safe. Vaccinating only “our own” populations is not enough.  

Since the beginning of 2020, we have seen failures at all levels of the response to COVID-19.  The world proved unprepared for a pandemic of this scale in spite of years of warning.  

We urgently need a global system fit for purpose to prevent virus outbreaks from becoming full-blown pandemics and global crises.  

On 12 May, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), which I co-chair together with former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, released an extensive report on the world’s handling of the current crisis, and offered a set of recommendations constituting a concrete agenda for action and reforms to prevent future global health crises.

As a panel, we urge Heads of State and government to act boldly and immediately. We call on leaders to adopt a political declaration under the auspices of the UN General Assembly which lays out the roadmap for transformation of the present international system for pandemic preparedness and response. The proposed reforms include the creation of a Global Health Threats Council at the highest level to ensure political commitment to pandemic preparedness and response, mobilise resources for a dedicated financing facility, and to hold stakeholders accountable. 

We have seen many important reports of this nature gather dust on the shelves of the United Nations and government archives. It is now vital that the international community urgently acts on the Panel’s findings and demonstrates the political will required to make the international health and emergency system more coherent in order to secure a much more effective pandemic response across all health, social and economic domains in the future.  

The Ebola epidemic which occurred during my Presidency benefited from speedy action and determination by the international community to mitigate the most damaging effects of the disease. This prevented it from spreading further, thus saving many lives.  

The response to COVID-19 has not reflected the same level of determination and solidarity. Instead, geopolitical tensions and vaccine nationalism continue to undermine the spirit of multilateralism. Current signs of progress must be sustained. We must truly make COVID-19 the last pandemic.  

Inconclusive debates seem to characterise the inadequate response of the Security Council to the recent outbreak of violence in Israel and Palestine.  

I share my fellow Elders’ concern about the upsurge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. As Elders, we call on the world community to take decisive steps to prevent further bloodshed and urge involved parties to address the root causes of the conflict. Without addressing the occupation of Palestinian lands and the institutionalised discrimination towards Palestinians, fresh cycles of violence will be inevitable.  

My fellow Elders Zeid Raad Al Hussein and Mary Robinson discussed the broader issues of peace and conflict in the latest episode of the Finding Humanity podcast. Despite the many achievements of the UN since its inception in 1945, the institution is undermined by the structural weaknesses of the UNSC and its ultimate failure to speak truth to power.

In matters of global peace and security, we must work together to find sustainable solutions and prevent the death of innocent lives. Without a strong and action-oriented multilateral system – with the UNSC at its core – solutions to complex and long-lasting challenges, from pandemics and climate change to intractable conflicts are doomed to fail, to the detriment of all humanity.  

Stay safe,                                              

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf


Adapted from The Elders' monthly newsletter. Sign up for regular updates here.

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