Africa Decries Weakening of Equity Provisions in New Pandemic Accord Draft
INB co-chairs Roland Driece and Precious Matsoso

The African region of the World Health Organization (WHO) has condemned the weakening of equity clauses in latest draft of the pandemic accord and called for this week’s negotiations to focus on principles and key areas of concern rather than the detailed text.

The 47 WHO Africa group countries made their submission at the resumption of the Intergovernmental Negotiation Body (INB) meeting in Geneva on Monday. 

“The African member states recognise the hard position that the bureau finds itself in trying to keep everyone at the negotiating table,” said Ethiopia on behalf of Africa.

“However, it is unfortunate that, in that process, the core of what this instrument is supposed to address, namely equity, has been presented in a weakened or reduced format, especially in those articles that would result in a meaningful realisation of equity.”

Ethiopia representing the African region.

It described the draft (being referred to as WHO CA+) as “going backwards” on equity from the zero-draft. A key criticism of the current draft is that it does not propose any legal obligations to ensure that all countries have equitable access to pandemic-related products such as vaccines, tests and therapeutics.

Africa wants legally binding commitments on the transfer of technologies, know-how and intellectual property rights; capacity-building for local manufacturing to address pandemics; technical and financial support, and the establishment of a “comprehensive access and benefit sharing (ABS) mechanism” for pandemic pathogens.

In its statement in support of Africa’s call for stronger equity clauses, South Africa added “rebuilding or strengthening health systems” and “the use of IP rights and TRIPS waivers” to strengthen countries’ pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

A new alliance of countries calling itself the Group on Equity stressed the need for “concrete provisions that effectively operationalise equity”.

Presented by the Philippines, the group cuts across WHO regions and includes China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Bangladesh, Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan and Thailand.

A group of Latin American countries represented by Colombia also supported Africa and the Equity Group’s call for strengthened equity clauses, declaring the need for “a practical and relevant instrument not simply a document filled with good intentions”.

Meanwhile, Brazil said that it is “essential that any measure related to sharing of pathogens be accompanied by the benefits that arise from their use in a unified system”, and warned that the inclusion of “so many measures” related to One Health might dilute the focus.

“It is urgent to have a fully agreed upon definition of pandemic and the method for declaring it, with clearly stated criteria, in order to be able to better grasp the scope of the instrument,” added Brazil.

Rising INB tension 

The INB Bureau has recommended that the current negotiations, in closed sessions until 16 June, should focus on “substantive issues” at this stage as the parties are still too far apart for text-based negotiations.

This approach had wide support, including from the European Union, which stressed that an “increased level of mutual understanding will be the best way to enable us to assess where we may concur and where we can move closer to each other”.

The EU called for a focus on “Chapter Two provisions and, of course, on equity issues”. Chapter Two is the guts of the draft and is home to virtually all the contentious clauses related to equity, covering all the key issues flagged by the Africa group.

Opening Monday’s INB meeting, co-chair Roland Driece said that tension was growing in the body, which he described as a “sign of maturity” as issues of conflicts became more evident.

With only 10 months left to fulfil its mandate, “time is pressing, and the text on the table is getting more concrete all the time,” said Driece, adding that six INB meetings remained in this time.

“We can feel that the tension is rising. I can feel it, where in the beginning everybody was kind and positive and you feel that people are now asking questions….  I take that as a sign of maturity, maturity in our process, and maturity of what we are doing. And it is only normal that we enter a stage where we are more critical of what we write down, more critical of what we might agree upon.”

Echoing Driece, co-chair Precious Matsoso added: “We have the best of our times laughing but it seems we’re getting now into the most difficult part where our strength will be tested.” 

Matsoso also explained to member states the gruelling process that the Bureau had gone through to formulate the latest draft, distilling all member state suggestions – amounting to 208 pages – into the 43-page draft.

After the open session of the INB, member states have moved into “drafting group” closed sessions until 16 June. 

The closed sessions continue to distress civil society organisations, which believe negotiations should be open.

Expressing concerns about participation and transparency, Health Action International said that the “secret meetings” sent the “wrong message”.

“We have serious reservations on how some topics are being addressed or, rather, discarded in these discussions; most notably the issue of health-oriented IP management as a substantive part of improving access to health technologies and contribute to a robust human rights-based approach that will harness international efforts for the attainment of universal equitable access,” added HAI’s Jaume Vidal during the session in which non-state actors were able to make their contributions.

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