Final Pandemic Agreement Talks Start Amid Gamble on Process and African Show of Unity
The Africa CDC convened a high-level meeting in Addis Ababa on Saturday to discuss the continent’s position on the draft pandemic agreement.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic agreement negotiations begin their final two-week stretch on Monday (28 April) amid a gamble with the process, a show of unity from African member states – and more suggestions for the draft text.

This final intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) meeting will focus on finding “common ground and consensus”, according to a decision taken at the last fractious meeting.

The programme of work sets down 12-hour days, with the first week (29 April-3 May) focusing on finalising the substantive negotiations on the draft text. 

A “stock take” of progress will be held on Friday 3 May, and the second week (6-10 May) will look at outstanding articles, along with the draft resolution for the World Health Assembly at the end of May.

The INB Bureau has also undertaken to provide daily briefing to relevant stakeholders on progress.

‘Take it or leave it’

After the previous session at which member states expressed frustration with one another and the INB Bureau, the INB co-chairs have taken a gamble with the process this time – and member states may not play along.

The multitude of bracketed contested text has been purged from the new draft, and the co-chairs want the meeting to focus on saying “yes”, rather than being bogged down by disagreements.

The meeting will go through the 23-page draft paragraph by paragraph, and member states that don’t agree with the text will be invited to have informal sessions, the co-chairs told a recent stakeholder briefing.

But the draft will be considered as the default text where there is no consensus, which the co-chairs described as a “take it or leave it” approach.

“The Bureau is of the opinion that the text as presented in the proposal for a WHO Pandemic Agreement is consensus ready,” it explained in a briefing document sent to stakeholders on Friday (26 April).

“It was drafted on the basis of our many rounds of negotiations. The co-chairs will open the different articles and will ask the member states if the article is ready for approval. If not, delegations will be invited to explain what their issue with the article is. 

“Where possible the co-chairs will immediately propose a way forward. If the issue at hand is more fundamental, either a small informal meeting between a few member states can be proposed, or – if more member states want to be involved –  a working group session can be proposed.” 

These working groups would be led by a member of the Bureau and the plan would be found them to return to the drafting group with a solution.

At the recent stakeholder briefing, the European Union indicated that not all the text was consensus-based while Bangladesh, a key player in the Group of Equity negotiating bloc, criticised the approach of grabbing  “low-hanging fruit for the sake of consensus”.

Africa asserts unity

Meanwhile, African leaders urged continental unity and pragmatism at a high-level meeting on the pandemic negotiations convened on Saturday by the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union, urged pragmatism and realism at the meeting, attended by health ministers, diplomats and UN agency officials.

Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union

“At the time of COVID, multilateralism collapsed completely and then Africa was shut [out of] accessing all the things we needed at the time, the PPE and the vaccines,” she said, adding that the pandemic negotiations were an attempt to revive multilateralism.

“In some situations, we don’t have a choice because we need to continue being pragmatic as we look for all conditions that can allow us some equity and some flexibilities and conducive conditions for us to do what we’ll have to do for ourselves,” she added.

Africa CDC Director General Dr Jean Kaseya told the meeting, which was also briefed by INB co-chair Precious Matsoso, that “what matters most is for the continent to speak with one voice”.

He stressed that Africa’s priorities, as contained in its New Public Order, are “to boost manufacturing capacities, expanded manufacturing capabilities, tech transfer, resilient supply chains, and robust regulatory frameworks”.

Kaseya said member states had three options: to reject the agreement, to accept it, or  to bring “strategic thinking” to the Geneva negotiations, which was “not yes or no”.

Whatever happened, he urged that the continent speak with “one voice” during the “tough” upcoming negotiations.

A communique released after the meeting identified Africa’s three bottom lines, which related to equity, pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPPR) and predictable, sustainable governing and financing. 

However, Africa CDC withdrew the communique a few hours later and claimed another would be following shortly . However, no replacement had been sent by late Sunday night, indicating some disagreement between parties about how to express the outcome of the meeting – not exactly an auspicious start for negotiations.

One of Africa’s bottom lines has been in relation to PABS, where continental leaders have insisted that they need to be compensated for sharing information about pathogens. The current  draft agreement proposes that details of a mutually beneficial PABS system – one of the biggest areas of disagreement – will only be finalised by mid-2026.

However, the continent stressed its leaders were ready to engage actively in finalising the agreement.

Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Geneva, Tsegab Kebebew Daka, told a recent event in Geneva that “the differences in the text are not huge”.

“They are mainly differences of ideas and they’re not that many. So we can come to an agreement,” Daka, a key negotiator for the Africa group, told the event at the Geneva Graduate Institute’s Global Health Centre.

While Daka acknowledged that there were still sticking points, he appealed to member states to take a “holistic view on the entire pandemic agreement” rather than dwelling on “specific articles where we have differences” – thereby endorsing the Bureau’s approach.

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