Pandemic Accord Talks Resume Soon With Call for More Attention to One Health, and Less Misinformation
INB co-chair Precious Matsoso and Dr Tedros at the fourth INB meeting.

Negotiations on a global pandemic accord resume next Monday at the fifth meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) amid calls for more attention to be paid to a One Health approach, and less to organised misinformation campaigns.

The meeting agenda is an extension of the INB meeting that ended on 3 March, as it will continue with the text-based negotiations, with member states rushing to meet the 14 April deadline for the submission of textual proposals.

In the three weeks since the fourth INB meeting ended, the INB Bureau has held three informal meetings to shed more light on a range of potentially tricky issues including the global supply chain, One Health, technology transfer and know-how and pathogen sharing.

Quadripartite Commitment to One Health

One of the key questions facing those crafting the pandemic accord is how to ensure that the One Health approach is central.

Monday saw the first annual meeting of the Quadripartite group – the WHO, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH).

The leaders of the four bodies called for the One Health approach to “serve as a guiding principle in global mechanisms, including in the new pandemic instrument and the pandemic fund to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response”.

“Recent international health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, mpox, Ebola outbreaks, and continued threats of other zoonotic diseases, food safety, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) challenges, as well as ecosystem degradation and climate change clearly demonstrate the need for resilient health systems and accelerated global action,” according to the Quadripartite leaders.

The Quadripartite leaders urged all countries and key stakeholders to prioritize One Health in the international political agenda, strengthen their own national One Health policies, strategies and plans and accelerate their implementation.

They also called for strengthening and sustaining prevention of pandemics and health threats “at source” by targeting activities and places that increase the risk of zoonotic spillover between animals to humans.

More misinformation

However, alongside the negotiations, there has been an escalation of misinformation claiming that a pandemic accord will rob member states of their sovereignty, spread mostly by the same sources that pushed COVID-19 anti-vaccine messages.

“We continue to see misinformation on social media and in mainstream media about the pandemic accord that countries are now negotiating. As I said last week, the claim that the accord will cede power to WHO is quite simply false. It’s fake news,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom during the body’s weekly press briefing last Friday

“Countries will decide what the pandemic accord says, and countries alone. And countries will implement the accord in line with their own national laws. No country will cede any sovereignty to WHO.”

The sources of this misinformation have tended to be the same as those that opposed COVID-19 vaccines.

According to a report in late 2021 by the US- and UK-based Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), almost two-thirds of anti-vaccine messaging on Facebook and Twitter could be traced to just 12 prominent individuals.

These include Robert F. Kennedy Jnr,who campaigns against vaccines for children; Joseph Mercola, who sells dietary supplements and false cures as alternatives to vaccines, and ‘intuitive medicine’ proponent Christiane Northrup, who has also been linked to the conspiracy group, Q-Anon. This misinformation had reached 59.2 million English speakers by December 2020. 

Last week, Twitter owner Elon Musk, who has 132.7 million followers, poured fuel on the fire by commenting that countries should not “cede authority” to the WHO.

This prompted Tedros to call him out directly on Twitter, along with another prominent anti-vaxxer who calls himself Kanekoa, who has also promoted the idea that the pandemic accord seeks to remove power from member states.

However, some right-wing politicians in the US, Australia and Europe are also claiming that the WHO is seeking to usurp countries’ sovereignty with the pandemic accord, while Russia and China have already shared their concerns about this issue in various WHO forums.

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