The World Health Organization agreed Monday to form a committee that aims to better respond to global health emergencies, with some member states acknowledging the shortcomings of the organization in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new committee will convene as soon as possible following the declaration of any international public health emergency to provide guidance to the WHO’s executive board and director general, according to a draft decision published Friday.

When the coronavirus was first declared an international public health emergency, there was no such immediate consultation, Clemens Martin Auer of Austria, who proposed the resolution, told the WHO executive board on Monday.

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“This was probably one of the weakest points during the last pandemic,” he said, adding that he hoped the committee would become “an indispensable part of the new global architecture on health emergency.”

German Escobar Morales of Colombia told the executive board that the coronavirus pandemic had shown that global health groups “could have responded better to this crisis.”


The proposal to establish the Standing Committee on Health Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response was agreed upon unanimously by the 34 members of the organization’s executive board and was instigated partially in response to criticism of the WHO’s initial response to the pandemic, which rapidly spread across the globe and has now killed at least 6 million people.

The committee would have sped the world’s response to COVID-19, said Michael Toole, a researcher at the Burnet Institute, a medical institute in Australia. Had it existed before the outbreak, it would have begun identifying how to mitigate it within 24 hours of the emergency declaration in January 2020, he said.

“What they would have looked at more carefully was whether this virus, COVID, was spreading from person to person,” he said. “Initially, China and then WHO said there was no evidence that it was being spread person to person, that all the cases came from that animal market.”

But the committee will not necessarily have the authority to investigate an emergency on the ground or declare public health emergencies, Toole said.

In January 2021, a report prepared by the organization’s own panel revealed how a series of missteps by governments and public health organizations, including the WHO itself, had helped the virus to spread.

The new committee will meet at least twice annually, and “as soon as reasonably practicable, and ideally within 24 hours” following the official declaration of an international public health emergency, WHO documents say.

There will be 14 members in total, with two representatives from each region, according to the documents, which also say that the aim is for the committee to hold its first meeting before the end of October.