Parliamentarians have strong role to play in COVID-19 struggle
GENEVA - The world’s parliamentarians were urged today to set their differences aside and act in unity at the national level to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don’t need to use this virus to score political points against each other. Strong national unity will bring strong global solidarity,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and a former Member of Parliament in his native Ethiopia.
He was speaking to parliamentarians from around the world in a webinar organized jointly with the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), WHO and UNDRR, which was opened by Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary-General.
Mr. Chungong said: “Slowing down or stopping the spread of COVID-19 requires measures that have a profound impact on the lives of citizens, the economy and society as a whole.
“These measures require more and not less parliamentary scrutiny. In times of crisis, parliaments have a duty to ensure that all measures taken result in enhanced protection and support of the most vulnerable.”
IPU’s campaign “Parliaments in time of pandemic” is mobilizing parliaments in the global response to COVID-19 and drawing lessons for future parliamentary response and asking parliaments to contribute to WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
Dr. Tedros recalled as a good example the solidarity that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union in the fight that led to the eradication of smallpox.
“As a former parliamentarian myself, I know the critical role parliaments can play in enhancing resilience against health emergencies like COVID-19. Parliaments can establish legislative measures to govern, enable and support risk management measures,” he said.
Dr. Tedros said: “The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of implementing the International Health Regulations and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.”
He said that “With the support of UNDRR, WHO has published a comprehensive Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management Framework, to support all countries to reduce and manage public health emergency risks, including disease outbreaks.”
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, said that “COVID-19 is a global health crisis, a socio-economic crisis, and it is also a crisis of disaster risk management.”
Ms. Mizutori recalled that while memories were still fresh of earlier outbreaks of Ebola, SARS, MERS and H1N1, governments and parliamentarians of Member States, pushed for the inclusion of biological hazards in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction when the global plan to reduce disaster losses was adopted in 2015. However, efforts to prepare for a disaster of this magnitude "had not been adequate, not all."
She said that few of the 81 national strategies for disaster risk reduction currently under preparation included pandemic preparedness.
“The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction is rapidly developing new guidance and tools to ensure that national strategies address pandemic preparedness. We will work with WHO to facilitate their implementation,” Ms. Mizutori said.
Petra Bayr, MP from Austria, said that some governments wanted to misuse the crisis and rule by decree without parliamentary oversight. It was important that the principle of parliamentary democracy is upheld.
Ms. Bayr also said that the Austrian parliament continues to meet while respecting the need for physical distancing.
Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Emergencies Programme, said people often ask him what are the most important things in emergency management and he usually answers three things...“governance, governance, governance.”
The most important thing in responding to emergencies is governance and leadership, trust between the leadership and the state, and a social contract that allows citizens to accept interventions that are not comfortable, he said.
His colleague, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVOD-19 Technical Lead, said that WHO was providing detailed guidance to countries considering lifting lockdown measures.
These included ensuring a sufficient public health workforce and adequate health system capacity to treat, test and trace. The most important is that communities “must be fully engaged and empowered to know what they can do to protect themselves.”
UNDRR’s Chief of Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Loretta Hieber Girardet, who moderated the discussion, reminded the participants that despite the tremendous losses incurred in this disaster, it is not too late to take collective action to prevent new infections and mitigate the impact of the pandemic, especially on the most vulnerable populations, such as refugees and those who are displaced.
The webinar was part of a series of webinars organized by UNDRR’s Global Education and Training Institute and WHO on COVID-19 and was attended by 472 participants from 84 countries.