Unlike many anniversaries, March 11 is one most would prefer to forget. It is a reminder of how the world neglected to prepare for a global health emergency – an impending crisis which many public health organizations including AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) had warned about. Today marks one year since the World Health Organization (WHO) belatedly declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
By early January 2020, it was already known the new virus was related to SARS, which had caused a deadly outbreak in the early 2000s, but WHO waited two months to declare a pandemic. There were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people had died of COVID-19 by March 2020. Currently, there are more than 118 million cases of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) worldwide and over 2.6 million deaths.
“One thing we have learned from this tragedy is that the global public health system must act faster when the world is threatened by an infectious disease outbreak,” said Tom Myers, AHF General Counsel and Chief of Public Affairs. “Had WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic sooner – as many, including AHF, pushed it to do – it is likely the situation would look much different a year later.”
By late February 2020, when COVID-19 had already spread to over 50 countries, AHF issued a strong statement, urging WHO to acknowledge the facts on the ground and issue a pandemic declaration.
Whether it’s COVID-19, SARS or Ebola—in an interconnected world, there will always be a very real threat of a deadly and rapidly spreading infectious disease outbreak. Our ability to quickly respond as a global community is absolutely vital and is measured in lives saved. The time for complacency and noncooperation is over. The world needs a new Global Public Health Convention – one that is transparent, accountable and gives international public health bodies the resources and authority required to adequately carry out pandemic preparedness and response.