Exclusive – United States Holds Back on Bold Move Toward Pandemic Treaty World Health Assembly 74 21/05/2021 • Elaine Ruth Fletcher Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) The pandemic treaty, first floated by the President of the European Council Charles Michel in November last year, is now backed by at least 25 countries, including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, as well as the World Health Organization. Just days before the World Health Assembly opens, the United States still appears to be stalling on an initiative led by some of its major European allies, to move ahead decisively on proposals for a “Pandemic Treaty”, according to a US draft proposal seen by Health Policy Watch. The Pandemic Treaty proposal to create a new, high-level, binding instrument covering countries’ obligations to prepare for, prevent, and also respond to disease threats more transparently and equitably, is due to be reviewed at the WHA, which opens Monday. The latest text of the treaty proposal backed by countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany, calls flatly on the WHO to: “setting up a process leading to the adoption of a Framework Convention on Pandemic Preparedness and Control …and negotiate a WHO treaty/ international instrument / framework convention on pandemics” – to be finalized by March, 2022, according to a version seen by Health Policy Watch. In contrast, the latest United States draft, dated 19.5.21, while not opposing the treaty moves altogether, would move more slowly and cautiously. The US compromise text, also seen by Health Policy Watch, calls upon the WHO Director-General to convene a WHA special session in November 2021 to “establish an intergovernmental committee to draft and negotiate a WHO convention or agreement on pandemic preparedness and response.” The US text also suggests that a WHO-backed Working Group should make an “assessment….of the benefits of developing a WHO convention”, which would be “considered” at the upcoming World Health Assembly. And rather than sealing the final Pandemic treaty deal in March 2022, the US alternative would set that as the date for the convening of a high-level ministerial meeting to: “consider the potential benefits of developing a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument.” Thus, the US draft appears to be slowing down attempts to negotiate a treaty – along multiple milestones of the diplomatic highway. Observers perplexed by US stance President Joe Biden speaking at the National Institutes of Health in February – re-engaged globally, and on COVID, but with domestic issues as his top priority. The United States’ move on the treaty stands in contrast to the forward-looking approach of the Biden administration to multilateralism and vaccine equity generally, observers say. “The line I keep hearing is ‘a treaty can’t get through the Senate’, which has some merit, but the Paris Agreement was structured precisely to get around the US Senate. So it doesn’t seem like that can be the real only reason,” said one diplomatic observer. “My hunch is that the Biden administration is so domestically focused they haven’t prioritized this, same with vaccine strategy – no clear US global strategy on vaccine access.” The fear, observers say, is that a delay in moving would lead to “loss of political momentum and appetite as rich countries with vaccines get distracted by other priorities.” Text Supported By Pandemic Treaty Proponents WHO Headquarters, Geneva, during last year’s 73rd World Health Assembly, held virtually. Next week, WHA 74 will take place remotely as well. The version supported by the proponents of the pandemic treaty – ostensibly led by the UK and Europe, still remains in flux, with alternative phrasing still under discussion this week. But overall, it would contain language that squarely supports a treaty – moving towards that goal including a preamble paragraph, PP28 that states: “Taking note of the ongoing initiative setting up a process leading to the adoption of a Framework Convention on Pandemic Preparedness and Control.” Two options for operative decisions are proposed, with greater and lesser degrees of force -and with clear US and Russian opposition noted in [square brackets] alongside the first text: “[NEW OP3 bis from Chile received 30 March: “DECIDES in accordance with Rule 40 of its Rules of Procedure and under article 19 of WHO’s constitution, to establish an intergovernmental negotiating body open to all Member States to draft and negotiate a WHO treaty/ international instrument / framework convention on pandemics. [del para (US, RusFed)]” “OPX: Requests the Working Group prioritize consideration of the potential benefits of developing a convention, agreement or other international instrument or political declaration on pandemic preparedness and response, including elements such an instrument might address, and provide an interim report with recommendations to the Executive Board in January 2022, with a final report to be considered at a special session of the World Health Assembly to be held in March 2022.” US Draft – More “Assessment” and “Discussion” of Treaty proposal In its version of the draft proposal, the US appears to be going for an even more watered down version of OPX, in a text emphasizing “assessments”, “discussions” and “reports”. An excerpt seen by Health Policy Watch, omits any firm statement of support for the Pandemic Treaty initiative in its preamble, stating merely that the The Seventy-fourth World Health Assembly should do one or more of the following to explore the possibility: OP 1. DECIDES (1) That the Director General should convene a Special Session of the World Health Assembly in November 2021, dedicated to the establishment of an intergovernmental committee to draft and negotiate a WHO convention or agreement on pandemic preparedness and response; (1) ALT To hold a [high-level meeting/ Ministerial Meeting] in March 2022 on the potential benefits of developing a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response and, as appropriate, the establishment of an intergovernmental committee to draft and negotiate such convention, agreement or other international instrument and requests the Director General to propose options and modalities for the conduct of such a meeting, with a view to ensuring the most effective and efficient outcomes. (2) To request the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies to prioritize an assessment of the benefits of developing a WHO convention [DEL: or] [Add: ,] agreement [Add: or other international instrument] on pandemic preparedness and response, including draft elements such an instrument might address and to provide a report to be considered at the [Del: Special Session] [Add: high-level meeting/Ministerial Meeting] of the World Health Assembly referred to in OP1.1 of this decision.” Image Credits: WHO / Antoine Tardy, EU Council, ABC27 News, WHO. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. 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