The verdict is in. Following the 15th meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee and on the recommendation of its members, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lifted the status of public health emergency of international concern ( USPPI) on COVID-19.
This moment was awaited with apprehension by some and with great relief by others who will finally feel that they have the blessing to move on.
As a reminder, the definition of a USPPI implies that the situation: “is serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected; [it] has public health implications beyond the national borders of the affected State and [it] may require immediate international action.”1
A USPPI statement knows no nuances. It is an emergency of international concern or it is not. There is no in-between. The example of Ebola allows us to understand this well. On August 8, 2014, after several months of lobbying, the WHO declared Ebola a public health emergency of international concern and upon its revocation on March 29, 2016, there were still new chains of transmission, but of decreasing frequency.
The committee considered “that the transmission of the Ebola virus in West Africa no longer constitutes an extraordinary event2”. In the field, I remember that the teams of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were still treating a few infected people and above all doing contact follow-up with great diligence. Everyone was obsessed with getting to patient zero, with ending Ebola.
On the other hand, in the camp of apprehensions, the fear is that we will give up completely on the efforts made to control COVID-19 and its repercussions. The virus remains in circulation, it continues to evolve and may cause further waves.
It is for this reason that we must continue to monitor it closely and be ready to adapt. Again, it’s not over. On the relief side, I support moving to another COVID-19 phase, but my wish is to resist the temptation to go into total collective amnesia.
I urge us to take stock, an inventory of our response to the pandemic to determine the best practices and those to set aside. Because none of us want to put our professional or personal life on hold for long months in a row, collectively suffer an economic contraction or not be able to accompany our loved ones at the end of life. You have to finish “the job” by learning.
Globally, we have key opportunities ahead of us in the coming months with the revision of the International Health Regulations (May 2024), the negotiation of a Global Agreement on Prevention, Preparedness and Response to Pandemics often referred to to the Pandemic Treaty (Spring 2024), the Political Declaration on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response to the United Nations Annual Assembly (September 2023). These various international mechanisms must recognize, loud and clear, in the prevention, preparation, and response to pandemics three basic principles, namely:
Canada must be the voice of these principles. It is at this price only that we will have a chance to do better collectively next time.