Now is the time to get it right, Helen Clark says as she gears up to head an independent review into the global response to Covid-19.
It was announced this morning that the former Labour Party leader and New Zealand Prime Minister between 1999 and 2008 will, alongside former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, head a new World Health Organization panel tasked with giving "an honest assessment" of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, whose agency is facing a US pullout following Trump administration complaints about its early handling of the virus emergency, announced the appointments to the newly created Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response this morning.
"I cannot imagine two more strong-minded, independent leaders to help guide us through this critical learning process to help us understand what happened — an honest assessment — and to help us understand also what we should do to prevent such a tragedy in the future," Tedros said.
This morning, Ms Clark told TVNZ1's Breakfast the work is hoped to help with any future pandemics as well.
"I've commented a lot that this is the sixth time in 17 years that the WHO has declared a public health emergency of international concern," she said.
"What does that tell us? That round about every three years we are having these zoonotic diseases, this animal to human transfer, come along and blindside us. The miracle, actually, is that it hasn't turned into something like this since 1918 - that's the miracle.
"This is going to happen again. If the world is as flat-footed in response as it has been to this we are in serious ongoing economic, social, political crisis.
"Now having observed the WHO pretty closely the last few months, because I think I've spent about four and a half months doing nothing much but looking at Ebola, I've seen the WHO day after day appeal to member states to try to head-off what was happening and I've seen a lot not listening, so I think while we can focus on the role of WHO, inevitably how member states responded has to come into the frame here."
Ms Clark said she will be based at her Auckland home, working virtually for the foreseeable future.
She said there would be "a lot of consultation" about appointing panel members.
"It's clear the member states have a lot of ideas for names they'd like to put forward," she laughed.
"I think that's why they've gone for two former heads of government, in my case, and state in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's in a sense this is all politics isn't it.
"But there's also a very real job to do, which is to look at how the WHO has been able to lead. Does it have the right mechanisms? What actually happened here? And there's a lot of politics in that."
Ms Clark said a lot was learned from the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
"They did a complete, sort of, internal, upside down review there and actually made quite a lot of changes to the way that they handled it. If they hadn't done that Covid-19 would have been a total disaster," she said.