Bumper Week for Pandemic Negotiations
Health workers donning personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a bumper week for pandemic negotiations – the last formal set for the year – with meetings of both the World Health Organization’s (WHO) intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) and the Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations (WGIHR).

The INB, which is negotiating a pandemic agreement, meets until Wednesday, while the WGIHR meets on Thursday and Friday.

The proximity of the meetings is intentional, as it enables negotiating teams to attend one another’s meetings to ensure synergy between the two processes.

The International Health Regulations (IHR) define the processes leading to the declaration by the WHO Director General of a public health emergency of international concern and member states’ responsibilities. They are the only global internally binding obligations related to health emergencies.

The pandemic agreement is due to map out pandemic prevention, preparedness and response based on equity, and establish the institutional requirements to achieve this.

INB focus

INB co-chairs Roland Driece and Precious Matsoso

Unlike previous INB meetings, this week’s session did not start with an open plenary as the meeting is considered to be a continuation of the seventh meeting, which started a month ago. In the intervening period, member states have been meeting to discuss various issues related to the negotiating text for the pandemic agreement.

This week’s INB started with several sub-groups looking at key issues on Monday, including pandemic prevention and surveillance, One Health and preparedness, readiness and resilience (Articles 4-6); sustainable production and tech transfer (10-11),  access and benefit sharing (12), global supply chains (13)  Implementation capacity and financing (19-20).

Plenary sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday will consider member states’ text submissions on several of the articles that have been discussed since the previously discussed, including the contentious research and development article, as well as terminology and institutional arrangements needed to implement the agreement.

The INB will conclude with an open plenary to report back to stakeholders who are not part of the INB on Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Geneva Health Files reported recently that Namibia’s representative at the INB – an articulate champion of equity – had been sent home at short notice and that sources had speculated that wealthier countries may have applied pressure on the small African country to do so.

However, the US and the European Union denied this. Interestingly, Namibia’s response to GHF did not deny that they had come under pressure to recall their diplomat but simply indicated that his term had ended and that Namibia was a sovereign country.

The INB has to conclude its work in time to present the draft pandemic agreement to the next World Health Assembly in May 2024.

WGIHR agenda

WGIHR co-chairs Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Dr Abdullah M Assiri.

According to the WGIHR draft programme of work, the closed-door meeting will begin on Thursday with the co-chairs proposing a way forward to address the amendments received. It will then proceed to discuss text proposals received for several articles, including the proposal by Bangladesh and the Africa Goup for Article 13A on “equitable access to health products, technologies and know-how for public health response” the establishment pf an implementation committee (also proposed by the Africa Group) and the compliance committee (US proposal).

The co-chairs will also introduce the Bureau’s text proposals for a number of articles  and annexes and facilitate discussion on these proposals. This includes the heart of the IHR – the “assessment and notification of events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern”.

The WGIHR is due to report to the WHO’s executive board on 22 January 2024.

Image Credits: Tehran Heart Centre .

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