We Must Not Repeat Mistakes of Past When Next Pandemic Strikes, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Meeting, Calling for Working Together

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, as delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed, to the high-level meeting on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, in New York today:

The global response to COVID‑19 was a story of human ingenuity and human failure.

On the one hand — tests created at lightning speed, and vaccines developed in record times.  On the other, a lack of preparation, the vulnerable hit the hardest, and vaccines hoarded by rich countries, as people in poorer nations went without.

The impacts remain unequal to this day.  The pandemic has thrown the Sustainable Development Goals further off course.

Hunger and poverty are on the rise.  Many developing countries are drowning in debt.  And though women stood at the front line of the pandemic response, gaping gender inequalities persist.

We must not repeat the mistakes of the past when the next pandemic strikes — as we know it will — and other health threats emerge.  That means working together.

We must improve surveillance of viruses, strengthen health systems and ensure all countries have equitable access to vaccines, treatments, diagnostics and life-saving technologies.  And we need a robust World Health Organization with strengthened authority and financing.

This meeting and its political declaration are important steps. As are the current negotiations in Geneva.

By next year’s World Health Assembly in May, I urge all countries to deliver a strong, comprehensive pandemic accord, focused on equity; as well as amendments to strengthen the International Health Regulations.  And I urge you to support the World Health Organization, including by honouring the commitment to increase assessed contributions to half of its budget, and supporting the proposed investment round.

In addition to these steps, I see three key areas for multilateral action to help us to prepare for the next pandemic.

First, a Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus.

Today, Africa spends more on debt service costs than on health care.  We need a finance boost so that countries can invest in the universal, resilient health care their populations need.  We have called for a Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus and for deep reforms to the international financial architecture.  I call on countries to support the Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus, to scale-up affordable long-term financing by at least $500 billion per year.  And to support the development of an effective debt-relief mechanism that supports payment suspensions, longer lending terms and lower rates for developing countries drowning in debt.

Second, misinformation.

The COVID‑19 pandemic saw untruths and outright lies traverse the globe faster than the virus itself — undermining expert advice and fuelling vaccine scepticism.  Our policy brief on information integrity on digital platforms puts forward a framework for an international response to disinformation and hate.  Its recommendations will inform a UN Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on Digital Platforms, which we hope Governments and platforms will implement voluntarily.  We are developing the Code ahead of the Summit of the Future next year, and I urge all countries to engage in these important efforts.

Third, responding to complex global shocks.

Shocks are increasingly international, and their impacts increasingly intricate.  They demand a response that involves a wide range of actors.  I have proposed an emergency platform to strengthen coordination to complex global shocks, including the economic and social impacts of pandemics, complementing efforts to deal with their health effects.  I urge countries to take forward this proposal at the Summit of the Future next year.

All of us have our own experiences of the pain of the pandemic.  Many of us may have lost loved ones.  Those memories should drive us forward.  Together, we can do better.  Today is a chance to ensure we do.  Let’s make the most of it.

For information media. Not an official record.