Breaking – WHO Member States Fail to Reach Agreement on Pandemic Accord; Way Forward in Hands of World Health Assembly
Precious Matsoso, INB co-chair, South Africa, closing out the last session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body, which ended Friday with no final result.

A last ditch effort of WHO member states to finish negotiations on a pandemic accord has failed to yield agreement ahead of next week’s World Health Assembly (WHA) – with key articles in the draft text still unresolved including the thorny formula for global sharing of vaccines and medicines during international health emergencies.

As of Friday evening, member states of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Board, assembled in Geneva, had stopped negotiating over the draft text, and were instead talking about the way forward.  And on that, as well, there was no accord, leaving a future pathway in the hands of the WHA.

According to sources who spoke to Health Policy Watch, member states were debating over recommendations to try to conclude the accord in parallel talks during next week’s WHA; to extend the negotiations by another six months; or even by a year.

The most radical proposal was for a ‘suspension’ of the global health assembly in mid-week, so that delegates could focus solely on the treaty negotiations.  But that seemed highly unlikely in light of the packed WHA agenda, which also includes highly political items related to the war in Ukraine and in Gaza.

“This is setting a new precedent on negotiations,” one NGO observer said. “Usually all of the negotiations are before the assembly, or at worst, there may be negotiations on one or two outstanding issues during WHA.”

‘We will see what we can do to finish the process’

US lead negotiator Pamela Hamomoto in Friday’s closing session.

Speaking to stakeholders in the room at the close of Friday’s session, INB co-chair Roland Driece, of the Netherlands, declared that “we said that we will see what we can do to finish this process. But for now the mandate of this team of the INB is going to finish.”

“Everyone tried to make this work,” said Precious Matsuso, the other co-chair, of South Africa.  “Yes we may not have finished, but there is still an opportunity and we will make sure it happens.”

Despite the impasse, delegates from diverse countries and geopolitical alliances that had clashed repeatedly on the actual text, also sought to strike an optimistic note, that eventually agreement could be reached.

“We have made real progress toward an agreeement that will in the future ensure the world is better able to prevent prepare for, and respond to pandemics,” said the delegate from the United Kingdom.  “We look forward to discussions at the World Health Assembly and building on the progress that we have made.”

Said the lead US negotiator on the treaty, Pamela Hamamoto, “I know we are all disappointed that we don’t have a dance and champagne in the room today…This is hard, but I will certainly continue to believe in multilateral solutions and I know that everyone in this room is committed as well.”

Kenya’s delegate to the INB on Friday evening.

Said the delegate from Kenya, “together we can ensure that the world is safer, fairer and better prepared for future outbreaks and pandemics. I look forward to further discussion on how to take this forward.”

WHO Director General looks for World Health Assembly as next step

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Direcctor General

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he is now looking to the upcoming WHA, when member states will assemble again, to define a way forward.

“Where there is a will there is a way, so I am still positive, despite the outcome.  There may be hiccups, but I don’t call it failure,” Tedros said. “You have really progressed a lot and done a lot.”

He urged people to remember the harsh impacts of the pandemic and the need to prevent the recurrence of the same scenario again – although memories of that period now seem to be fading.

“I don’t know if there was any anyone who has not been affected by COVID,” he said. “Not only losing loved ones, but economic problems, loss of jobs, you name it. This impact was because the world was unprepared, and by the way, it still is.”

‘Wedding at WIPO, funeral at WHA’

The suspension of pandemic accord talks in WHO, came as members of another international agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) came to a milestone agreement on a historic new treaty requiring companies and other entities filing for patents to disclose the sources of indigenous plant as well as traditional knowledge, used in their products.

The new treaty establishes a disclosure requirement for patent applicants whose inventions are based on genetic resources and/or associated traditional knowledge. The treaty aims to protect the indigenous resources of countries, particularly developing countries, and will have wide-ranging relevance for new medicines, as well as cosmetics and other products.

“It’s kind of like a wedding at WIPO and a funeral at WHO this morning,” said Jamie Love of the NGO Knowledge Ecology International (KEI).

Image Credits: Nana Kofi Acquah.

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