Countries convene for pandemic treaty talks

Published November 28, 2021
The three-day meeting at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva comes with the planet still besieged by Covid-19, nearly two years on from the first recorded cases. — Reuters/File
The three-day meeting at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva comes with the planet still besieged by Covid-19, nearly two years on from the first recorded cases. — Reuters/File

GENEVA: World nations gather on Monday to thrash out whether to pursue a pandemic treaty setting out how to handle the next crisis — which experts fear is only a matter of time.

The three-day meeting at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva comes with the planet still besieged by Covid-19, nearly two years on from the first recorded cases.

The economic turmoil and millions of lives lost have triggered calls for new international defences strong enough to prevent a repeat disaster.

“We will have more pandemics in the future. The question is not if, but when,” Jaouad Mahjour, the WHO assistant director general for emergency preparedness, told reporters.

The World Health Assembly — the WHO’s decision-making body comprising all 194 member states — is holding an unprecedented special session to consider developing a new accord on pandemic preparedness and response.

The meeting should conclude with a resolution on the way forward. The desired outcome — whether a treaty or another formulation — will come later down the line, potentially as far off as 2024.

But how far countries are prepared to go in agreeing binding terms on getting ready for the next outbreak, and effective systems for stamping it out, remains uncertain.

Rapid regulations or tougher treaty?

The existing International Health Regulations were simply not designed to handle pandemics on the scale of Covid-19, or ensure equity and preparedness, said Mahjour. Indeed, the word ‘pandemic’ does not even appear in the texts.

Though faster to enter into force, the scope for what can be done via regulations is far narrower than for a treaty.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wants a treaty to end the sorry cycle of “neglect and panic”.

“The ongoing chaos of this pandemic only underlines why the world needs an iron-clad global agreement to set the rules,” he said. The United States is thought to be less keen on talk of a treaty and more focused on agreeing content with rapid impact.

However, more than 70 countries so far are backing a treaty, the health ministers of 32 of them said in a joint article.

The ministers — from nations including Britain, Chile, Germany, Italy, Kenya, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and Turkey — said a treaty was “the only substantial proposal” that could ensure a “rapid, joint, effective, and equitable global response” to future outbreaks. “We cannot wait for the next crisis before we act,” they wrote.

Ensuring equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments is a key special session issue for many African countries starved of tools to fight this pandemic.

“Whatever we do, we need a continued commitment at the highest political level in the future,” one European diplomat said, adding: “We need a legally-binding instrument to structure this... it’s too important.” Steve Solomon, the WHO’s chief legal officer, told reporters there was “good reason to believe” a collective way forward could be found.

‘Get on with it’

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, convened to rake over the failings in tackling Covid-19, reported its findings and recommendations in May. It proposed establishing a WHO framework convention. Under that treaty format, the bulk of it could be agreed quickly and elements could then be added to the framework over time.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2021

Opinion

Editorial

24 Jan, 2022

Anti-extremism policy

HAD there been more far-sighted policymaking on the part of the state and an understanding of how religious ...
Government’s silence
Updated 24 Jan, 2022

Government’s silence

A MAJOR trial is underway in London during which Pakistan has repeatedly been mentioned as the place where payment...
24 Jan, 2022

Cutting mangroves

FOR Karachi, the mangrove cover along its coastline is a thin line of defence against potential oceanic and climatic...
Yemen atrocity
Updated 23 Jan, 2022

Yemen atrocity

The sooner this war is ended, the better, to halt the suffering of Yemen's people and ensure security of all regional states.
23 Jan, 2022

Regressive taxation

THE FBR appears to have kicked up a new and unnecessary controversy by serving notices on currency dealers to ...
23 Jan, 2022

Medico-legal flaws

ON Friday, a 13-page verdict authored by Justice Ali Zia Bajwa of the Lahore High Court revealed a shocking fact...