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First round of public hearing for WHO’s ‘first-ever pandemic treaty’

  • Published
    14th Apr, 2022
Context

In the first round of public hearings for the WHO’s first-ever pandemic treaty (currently underway), global leaders united and made recommendations on how to prevent future outbreaks from becoming global pandemics.

Background
  • The aim of the body is to “strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response” by drafting a global treaty.
  • Once finalised, it would be the first-ever pandemic treaty in the world.

Key-highlights of the recommendations

Suggestions range from accountability to more powers to developing countries to the insufficiency of the International Health Regulations (IHR) to deal with pandemics currently.

  • Global Public Health Convention (GPHC) pushed for three other non-negotiable principles: Solidarity, transparency, and equity.
  • It also suggested incentivising alerting any public health threat, making public health measures an obligation and sharing information, sequences and samples “rapidly and systematically” so everyone can benefit from it, essential.
  • The G20 Health and Development Partnership (HDP) suggested creating a body similar to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) for pandemic preparedness and health system resilience which would report annually to the British Parliament.

Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)

  • The OBR, created in 2010, is a fiscal watchdog which provides independent economic forecasts and analysis of the UK economy.
  • A similar body for health would increase scrutiny of and confidence in Britain’s pandemic plans for future outbreaks.
  • The Geneva Global Health Hub released a report on the politics of a WHO pandemic treaty.
  • It stated, “Whatever the route of the pandemic treaty, whatever the strategies for pandemic preparedness and response, it will not be possible for negotiators to side line how deeply unjust the international order is and to avoid positioning themselves vis á vis this conjuncture, worsened by COVID-19.”

International Health Regulations (IHR):

  • Since IHR falls under Article 21 of the WHO’s Constitution, countries have to explicitly opt out if they wish to do so.
  • The potential treaty will be formed under Article 19 under which countries have to explicitly opt in.
  • To address issues of inequity, developed countries have to undertake some positive obligations, which mean they must be party to the treaty. But if they are not, inequity will persist even with a treaty.
  • The IHR, in its ambit, already covers all kinds of public health emergencies of international concern which includes a pandemic.

Need of international collaboration

  • The pandemic has highlighted dangerous fissures in the global health system.
  • The IHR adopted in 2005 in the aftermath of the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, do provide a legal framework on how to proceed in such events.
  • The Panel for a Global Public Health Convention (GPHC) — an independent coalition of global leaders working towards preventing infectious disease outbreaks from becoming pandemics — has stressed on the need for accountability in a report released recently.
  • The report noted, “While we appreciate the complexity of negotiating a Convention, we also urge haste. With current systems, we are little better prepared now to face a new pandemic threat than we were two years ago”.

About WHO:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health.
  • It was established on 7 April 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • The core function of WHO is to direct and coordinate international health work through collaboration.
  • The main areas of work are health systems; health through the life-course; non-communicable and communicable diseases; preparedness, surveillance and response; and corporate services.
  • WHO partners with countries, the United Nations system, international organisations, civil society, foundations, academia, and research institutions.
  • The World Health Assembly is attended by delegations from all Member States, and determines the policies of the Organization.

The World Health Assembly constituted an intergovernmental negotiating body in December 2021.

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