WHO members agree to historic pandemic accord

WHO World Health Organization meeting on pandemic preparedness and response accord - image via WHO

The World Health Assembly announced the launch of a global process to create an international instrument to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response on Dec. 1, at the conclusion of a special three-day meeting in Geneva to address cooperation in the face of pandemics.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the many flaws in the global system to protect people from pandemics: the most vulnerable people going without vaccines; health workers without needed equipment to perform their life-saving work,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, told the gathering.

“But at the same time, we have seen inspiring demonstrations of scientific and political collaboration, from the rapid development of vaccines to today’s commitment by countries to negotiate a global accord that will help to keep future generations safer from the impacts of pandemics.”

An ‘unprecedented’ WHO gathering

The three-day session of the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body, was unprecedented.

Accords like this one normally take years to come to fruition, and the process for this one is projected to continue until at least 2024. The key decision by the WHO’s 194 member nations to go ahead with a “new instrument” is merely the first step. This conclusion is the result of more than 200 suggestions made by five committees of experts and officials that analyzed missteps by world leaders during the COVID-19 epidemic.

“The failures have been colossal and systemic — we are living in a broken world,” says Stephen Morrison, director of global health policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC in the journal Nature. “What better a time to try to get something going that addresses the fundamental problems?”

Establishing a new body

The international instrument would be created under Article 19 of the WHO Constitution, which “provides the World Health Assembly with the authority to adopt conventions or agreements on any matter within WHO’s competence,” the WHO said. “The decision by the Assembly establishes an intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement, or other international instruments on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, with a view to adoption under Article 19 of the WHO Constitution, or other provisions of the Constitution as may be deemed appropriate by the INB.”

The INB will convene its inaugural meeting on March 1, 2022.

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