The World Health Organization on Thursday said it was setting up an independent panel to examine both its own and other countries response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The committee will be headed by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who will both also choose its members, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual meeting with representatives of WHO’s 194 member states.

The decision to form the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response came two days after American President Donald Trump’s administration formally notified the United Nations that the United States is withdrawing from WHO. The US is the largest contributor to the global agency. The country had contributed $400 million (approximately Rs 3,040 crore) to the organisation last year – nearly 15% of its entire budget.

“This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control,” Ghebreyesus said. “The magnitude of this pandemic, which has touched virtually everyone in the world, clearly deserves a commensurate evaluation.”

Ghebreyesus proposed that a Special Session of the Executive Board be called in September to discuss the panel’s progress. He suggested that in addition to the interim report, the committee will provide monthly updates. However, the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme will also continue its existing work, the director-general said.

“Even as we fight this pandemic, we must be readying ourselves for future global outbreaks and the many other challenges of our time such as antimicrobial resistance, inequality and the climate crisis,” Ghebreyesus said. “Covid-19 has taken so much from us. But it is also giving us an opportunity to break with the past and build back better.”

The WHO chief said the pandemic is a test of global solidarity and global leadership. “ The virus thrives on division but is thwarted when we unite,” he added. “My hope is that the defining crisis of our age will likewise remind all people that the best way forward – the only way forward – is together...If our panel can reinforce the need for multilateralism, we will have done our job.”

The World Health Organization has come under repeated criticism for its handling of the crisis, notably from the US. Trump claims that the organisation had deliberately covered up the early days of the pandemic to support China. But, the global health body has repeatedly denied Trump’s claims that it promoted Chinese “disinformation” about the coronavirus.