10 Jul 2020

Covid-19 review 'challenging' because pandemic 'ongoing', Helen Clark says

4:48 pm on 10 July 2020

Former prime minister Helen Clark has warned the end of the Covid-19 pandemic is nowhere in sight.

Former NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Former NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark. Photo: Supplied

Clark has been chosen to carry out a review of the World Health Organisation's response to the pandemic, alongside former Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

She told Morning Report it will be a challenging task, because the pandemic is still unfolding.

"We're nowhere near through the end of this, some people say we may not see any widely available vaccine for at least two and a half years, it may then not be fully efficacious, it may not stop us getting it, it may mean it mitigates symptoms.

"So this is a long haul and we're asked to start a review while this is ongoing."

Clark said the World Health Assembly, which is comprised of health ministers, had a range of issues they wanted investigated.

"They wanted to look at the effectiveness of WHO work, the effectiveness of the regulations, to look at the WHO's role - I guess also implicit in that is how countries responded to the WHO's guidance, so there are things you can get on with."

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The review will also consider criticism the international body favoured China and was too slow in its Covid response.

Clark said they would look at the performance of the WHO and how countries responded to it.

"I think almost inevitably you will look at every step that the WHO took, you'll also be informed by its own internal processes on that, but you'll want to take the wider look.

"I think what is very clear to me is that to fight a global pandemic you need global cooperation, you need strong international organisations, you need the WHO to be the best it can be."

Clark said another issue is how countries responded to WHO's advice.

"You can look at what the WHO advised and when it advised it and how it advised it, but you also have to look at how countries responded to that - and they've responded in a very wide range of ways."

Clark believes America will remain in the World Health Organisation if President Donald Trump loses the November election.

The Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations that the United States is withdrawing from the WHO next year.

Clark said the US was the biggest funder of the international body.

"I certainly would anticipate that if there's a change of administration in the US, the World Health Organisation will see the US back."

Clark said the WHO has an important role in developing countries where there is always a WHO representative and they work with ministries of health.

"So it has that on the ground function of helping to build the capacities of health systems, which is quite important at the moment as poorer countries are supported to build capacity to fight the pandemic."

She said there are a lot of ideas around about how you could reform the institutional response to a pandemic such as whether there should be a constitution on pandemics or whether the WHO should have more than just advisory powers.

The first job will be to get a secretariat together to set up the work programmes, define the exact terms of reference and so on, she said.

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