The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed how underfunded and powerless the World Health Organization is to carry out the tasks the world expects of it, an independent expert panel said Tuesday.

Pandemic lays bare WHO’s powerlessness: experts

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by Nina LARSON

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed how underfunded and powerless the World Health Organization is to carry out the tasks the world expects of it, an independent expert panel said Tuesday.

The heads of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response presented a report to the WHO’s executive board which said that the UN health body could have acted faster and more decisively at the start of the pandemic to avert catastrophe.

But they stressed that the delays and failures could largely be attributed to the weak position of the UN agency, and said more funding and reforms were desperately needed.

“The world is more reliant on an effective WHO than ever before,” said former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who co-chairs the panel with former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark.

But, she told reporters, the same countries that have turned to the WHO for leadership during the crisis “have kept it underpowered and under-resourced to do the job expected of it.”

Covid-19 was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019 before seeping beyond China’s borders to wreak global havoc, costing more than two million lives and eviscerating economies.

The WHO has faced claims it moved too slowly to declare an international crisis, to acknowledge the virus was spreading through the air, and to recommend face masks.

It has also faced criticism for not pressing China harder to provide accurate information on the initial cases and for allowing more than a year to pass before an international team of experts could enter China to help search for the origins of the virus.

But while the panel report also suggested the WHO should have acted quicker at the start, Johnson Sirleaf stressed that “the bottom line is the WHO has no powers to enforce anything or investigate… within a country”.

“When it comes to a potential new disease threat, all the WHO can do is ask and hope to be invited in,” she said.

– ‘Woeful’ –

Clark also pointed to the agency’s low level of funding and the dangers of relying so heavily on volatile voluntary contributions.

Such contributions can suddenly disappear, as seen last year when the United States, traditionally the WHO’s biggest donor, halted its backing.

“The funding of the WHO is woeful,” Clark said, pointing to comparisons showing the agency receives less than a single hospital in New York.

“This is our global health organisation. We want it to do well, we need it to do well,” she said, “but it has been kept on pretty short rations.”

The panel also found that the international alert system for health emergencies needed an overhaul.

It complained that it took a full month for the WHO’s emergency committee to declare the highest alert level, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern or PHEIC, and that many countries did not appear to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

“Pathogens can travel in minutes and hours, not in days and weeks,” Clark said.

“The international system for alert and response has the trappings of an analog system in the digital age.” Agence France-Presse

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Anong ginagawa ng PEZA? Salceda: Gov’t losing P1T yearly due to smuggling in ecozones

By Billy Begas

House Committee on Ways and Means chairperson Joey Salceda said the government could be losing P1 trillion in annual revenue due to smuggling and tax abuses in economic zones.

Salceda urged the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and other investment promotion agencies with freeport privileges to take smuggling enforcement seriously.

Based on the information gathered by the Committee, Salceda said ecozones are becoming conduits for big-time smuggling.

Salceda said that in 2017, the government gave away P504 billion in tax incentives in ecozones. If you add the lost revenue due to smuggling it increases to P695 billion. With higher excise taxes on fuel, cigarettes, and sugar-sweetened beverages the present figure will be very close to P1 trillion of revenue lost annually.

“Ecozones are the country’s trillion-peso blackhole. It’s where a third of government revenues go to disappear. The bleeding has to stop,” said Salceda.

Last week, Salceda’s committee held hearings on tobacco illicit trade and agricultural product smuggling made easier by ecozone privileges.

Salceda said some P30 billion is lost annually due to tobacco smuggling. For fuel, the estimated foregone revenue from 2010 to 2019 is P357 billion.

“We keep watching BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) and BOC (Bureau of Customs) on smuggling, but we never watch freeport zones. In Clark, it’s so easy to get cigarettes that do not have tax stamps. It’s Subic, throngs of would-be agents of smuggled fuel wait every day outside the zone to negotiate. The freeports are outside customs territory, so BOC’s ability to enforce and do surveillance inside is extremely limited. PEZA has its own police. They should do better,” said Salceda.

Dagsa na ng bakuna! Galvez: 1.4M doses of Sinovac jabs arriving in March

The country is expecting another 1.4 million doses of CoronaVac vaccines this month, National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said on Sunday.

“Meron po tayong na-procure na 1 million na darating po sa March 21 (We have procured 1 million doses of vaccine which will arrive on March 21) and then with the generosity of the Chinese government, another 400,000 will be given to us,” Galvez said during the Covid-19 vaccination rollout at Qualimed Hospital in Santa Rosa City, Laguna.

He said the government has already processed the required documents for the arrival of the vaccines produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech pharmaceutical company.

Aside from the CoronaVac jabs, the country is slated to receive around 4.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX Facility, to be delivered until May.

Between March to May, the Philippines will receive around 1.5 million doses each month, Galvez said.

Various hospitals nationwide are conducting the vaccination of their healthcare workers, inoculating an average of 10,000 to 15,000 individuals daily.

“Ngayon po halos 100 hospitals na po ang naserbisyuhan natin (So far we are serving almost 100 hospitals),” he said.

Galvez assured of an equitable distribution and deployment of Covid-19 vaccines nationwide.

“Our priority for the vaccination, so far, are the Covid-19 referral hospitals, public hospitals, and private hospitals,” he added.

Qualimed was the first hospital in the country to receive the initial batch of AstraZeneca vaccines. Around 300 healthcare workers were inoculated.

Testing czar Vince Dizon also witnessed the event. (PNA)

Konting hintay na lang: 13M doses of Moderna vaccines arriving in PH in Q3

Moderna, Inc. announced on Sunday it has signed a supply agreement with the Philippines for 13 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine that will arrive by the third quarter of this year.

The Philippine government and private sector are also working out a deal for an additional 7 million doses.

“We thank the government and the private sector for their collaboration to bring the Covid-19 Vaccine Moderna to the Philippines,” Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, said in a statement.

“We appreciate the confidence in Moderna and our mRNA platform demonstrated by the Government of the Philippines. We remain committed to making our vaccine available on every continent to help end this global pandemic.”

National Task Force Against Covid-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. also said in an interview on Sunday that the government is waiting for the final draft of the multilateral supply agreement with Moderna.

“Kasi dalawa po ang agreement natin with Moderna. ‘Yung bilateral agreement na 13 million at saka yung 7 million (We are finalizing two agreements with Moderna firm. One is the bilateral agreement for the 13 million doses and the other one is 7 million doses) for the tripartite or multilateral agreement,” he said.

Under the deal, the government is expecting the delivery of the Moderna vaccines by the third quarter of the year.

On Sunday night, 38,400 doses of the AstraZeneca jabs will arrive after the initial delivery of 487,200.

Sinovac, following a donation of 600,000 doses, will have 1.4 million more to be delivered on March 21. Of the total, 400,000 doses were donated by China.

“Sa ngayon po ang ating Emergency Use Authorization na nakabinbin pa lang po ngayon is yung sa Bharat atsaka po yung sa Gamaleya. ‘Yung others, they are already submitting in, nagkakaroon ng tinatawag natin na parallel negotiation (So far, only the Bharat and Gamaleya companies have pending applications for EUA. The others are already submitting their applications, while the parallel negotiation is ongoing),” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization has issued interim recommendations for use of the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine against Covid-19 for those aged 18 years and older.

The Moderna vaccine has been shown to have an efficacy of approximately 92 percent against Covid-19, starting from 14 days after the first dose, according to WHO.

“Based on the evidence so far, the new variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the B.1.1.7 and the 501Y.V2, do not alter the effectiveness of the Moderna mRNA vaccine,” the WHO posted on its website. (PNA)

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