Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.
I’m pleased to welcome you to this first meeting of the International Health Regulations Review Committee on the functioning of the IHR during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are now more than 8 months into the most severe public health crisis in a century.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our world. It is touched all of us. Its effects will be felt for years to come.
More than 27 million cases have now been reported to WHO, and more than 880,000 deaths.
But of course, numbers do not even begin to tell the story.
Millions of people have lost their livelihoods. The global economy is in recession. Social and political fault lines have been exposed.
There has never been a greater need for global cooperation to confront a global threat.
The pandemic has been a stern test of global capacities for preparedness and response, and for the legal instrument that governs them: the International Health Regulations.
At the World Health Assembly in May, WHO Member States came together to pass a historic resolution, calling for a comprehensive evaluation of the international response to the pandemic, including the functioning of IHR.
I have therefore established this committee in accordance with that resolution, and with the provisions of the IHR.
Let me remind you that according to Article 50 of the IHR, the functions of the review committee are to make technical recommendations to the Director-General regarding amendments to the IHR; and to provide technical advice on any matter referred to the committee by the Director-General regarding the functioning of the IHR.
We expect that in the course of your work you will review the functioning of the IHR during the COVID-19 response, including IHR provisions related to, but not limited, to the following areas:
First, the convening of the Emergency Committee and its working modalities, and in particular, the binary mechanism for declaring a public health emergency of international concern;
Second, the international coordination and collaboration for response, including the role and functioning of national IHR focal points;
Third, outbreak alert, verification and risk assessment, information sharing and communication;
Fourth, additional health measures in relation to international travel;
Fifth, implementation and reporting of IHR core capacities, including the possibility of establishing peer review processes for capacity assessments;
And sixth, examining progress made on the implementation of recommendations from previous IHR review committees.
As you know, this is the fourth time a review committee has been established:
The first was in 2010, following the H1N1 influenza pandemic;
The second was in 2014, for a second extension of the deadline for establishing national public health capacities and IHR implementation;
And the third was in 2016, following the West African Ebola outbreak.
On each of those occasions, the review committee made recommendations. Part of your job is to assess the extent to which those recommendations were implemented.
I’m sure over the past 8 months that you have become accustomed to virtual meetings.
In the same way, the work of this committee will be done virtually, in as many deliberative, closed sessions as necessary, but also in open meetings, where designated representatives of Member States, UN agencies, inter-governmental organizations and non-state actors in official relations with WHO can attend.
These representatives may provide memoranda and, in consultation with the Chair, may make statements to the committee.
You will be supported by a dedicated secretariat in WHO, which will address your requests and needs, facilitate access to documents and relevant people, develop background materials and provide any clarification you need.
If you require specific technical expertise, you may invite external resource persons or request specific reports.
Previous review committees have also involved the WHO Regional Offices and requested their input.
Depending on the progress you make, you may present an interim progress report at the resumed World Health Assembly in November, and a final report to the Assembly in May next year.
As you know, this committee is not the only process for reviewing the international response to the pandemic.
In July we established the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, and the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme is also performing its role.
We will support you by establishing a mechanism through the Chairs of each body for exchanging findings and avoiding duplication of efforts.
I’m sure you are conscious of the weight of this moment in history, and of the enormous expectations of your work.
But you are also uniquely equipped to meet that moment.
This committee comprises some of the finest minds and deepest experience in global health.
Following informal consultation with committee members, I am pleased to propose the following three officers of the committee:
As Chair, Professor Lothar Wieler, President of the Robert Koch Institute in Germany;
As Vice Chair, Dr Lucille Blumberg, Deputy Director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the National Health Laboratory Service in South Africa;
And as Rapporteur, Dr Preben Aavitsland, Senior Consultant in infectious disease prevention, health and the environment at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
Congratulations, and thank you to all committee members for lending your time and expertise to this very important process.
On behalf of the Secretariat, we look forward to supporting you in every way possible.
I wish you every success, I look forward to the initial discussion, and I look forward to receiving your report in time.