Pandemic Treaty ‘Zero-Draft’ is Out – Proposes WHO Gets 20% of All Pandemic Products to Ensure Equity
A doctor provides health services to children in a refugee camp in northwest Syria during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO)’s  ‘zero-draft’ of a pandemic treaty proposes that 20% of pandemic-related products – vaccines, diagnostics, personal protective equipment and therapeutics – should be allocated to the global body, which will then ensure their equitable distribution.

The draft, which has been seen by Health Policy Watch, was sent to the WHO’s 194 member states this week, officially opening the door for negotiations on how the world should behave in future pandemics.

According to the draft, half of the pandemic products allocated to WHO (10% of total global production) should be donated while the other half would be bought for an “accessible” price.

No less than 11 of the draft’s 49-clause preamble deal in one way or another with intellectual property rights, signalling the key battleground for upcoming negotiations.

These clauses recognise that “protection of intellectual property rights is important for the development of new medical products”, but highlight their impact on price and access.

‘Use IP waivers’

In the text itself, member states are directed to “take appropriate measures to support time-bound waivers of intellectual property rights that can accelerate or scale up manufacturing of pandemic-related products during a pandemic, to the extent necessary to increase the availability and adequacy of affordable pandemic-related products”.

In addition, parties (member states) are encouraged to “apply the full use of the flexibilities provided in the TRIPS Agreement” and encourage all patent-holders of pandemic-related products to “waive, or manage as appropriate, payment of royalties by developing country manufacturers”.

Manufacturers that get significant public financing will also be encouraged to waive royalties on the continued use of their technology for the production of pandemic-related products. 

Health activist Jamie Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), described the draft as being “surprisingly strong on several topics” including intellectual property.

The pandemic treaty is being developed in reaction to what the draft describes as “the catastrophic failure of the international community in showing solidarity and equity in response to the coronavirus disease”. 

Put together by the intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) bureau, the draft will be negotiated in this body – and it is unlikely to survive in its current form given the strong pharmaceutical lobby, particularly in the European Union.

The next meeting of the INB is on 27 February, with the final version of the accord expected to be tabled at the WHO’s 2024 World Health Assembly.

‘Nothing agreed’

The zero draft states it has been developed “without prejudice to the position of any delegation and following the principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. “

While the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) was still analysing the draft, it described its release as “an important milestone in the negotiation process of the WHO Accord”.

“The innovative pharmaceutical industry has been at the forefront of the response to the current pandemic and as a result is uniquely positioned to contribute to future pandemic preparedness discussions,” according to the IFPMA. 

“We will continue to constructively engage in these negotiations, by emphasizing the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and bringing proactive solutions to the table, such as Berlin Declaration.”

Building from the ‘bottom up’

Meanwhile, Dr Mike Ryan, WHO’s executive director of health emergencies, told the WHO’s executive board (EB) on Wednesday morning that the conditions conducive for pandemics – war, hunger, epidemics and natural disasters – were “converging with unprecedented frequency and intensity”.

“Currently, WHO is responding to 55 graded emergencies around the world, which is unprecedented,” said Ryan. “Last year, we supported member states in response to over 75 different health emergencies around the world.

“Over 339 million people are now in need of direct humanitarian assistance, and within those countries affected by fragility and conflict, we’re seeing 80% of the world’s major epidemics occurring.”

Ryan urged countries to build their national action plans for public health security alongside the INB negotiations, stressing that “global health security builds from the bottom up”.

Image Credits: Flickr – Trinity Care Foundation, International Rescue Committee.

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