Report on Pandemic Response is Slashed Ahead of WHO Executive Board Meeting
The WHO Executive Board discussion on the coronavirus outbreak in early February 2020 – the last full-scale face-to-face meeting in Geneva of the governing body before WHO declared an international health emergency.

One of the more complicated tasks facing next week’s World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board (EB) is how to take forward negotiations on an ‘instrument’ to address future pandemics – and even the report to the board about this has been slashed.

The past two years of vaccine hoarding, nationalism and fights about the origins of SARS-CoV2 have made it plain that finding global agreement on how to address future pandemics might be impossible.

Although the special session of the World Health Assembly late last year agreed that the WHO would actually try to do this, the working group charged with trying to develop a negotiation plan has struggled to find consensus.

The EB report from the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies (WGSWP) was nine pages at the start of the group’s meeting last week – but the latest version is down to six pages.

The entire clause that suggested that the WHO should have speedy access to disease outbreak sites has been removed – at the insistence of China, diplomatic sources told Health Policy Watch.

The entire clause 11 has been removed from the original report

The report identifies two key priorities to frame future pandemic response – equity and building systems and tools, including strengthening the International Health Regulations (IHR) and adopting a ‘One Health’ approach.

It proposes that IHR be tightened up to “provide clear guidance for action in the event of a public health emergency of international concern with the potential to establish immediate alerts”.

However, that is as close as it gets to the original report suggesting that the WHO might be empowered to get to outbreaks in countries as speedily as possible.

The WGSWP report, part of EB agenda item 15 on public health emergencies preparedness and response, is due to be addressed on the first day, Monday 24 January.

The board will be expected to “provide further guidance” on the report. It will also consider the creation of a Standing Committee on Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness and Response “to provide guidance and, as appropriate, make recommendations to the Board regarding ongoing work on policy proposals on pandemic and emergency preparedness and response”.

Agenda focuses on four pillars 

The agenda of EB, meeting for the 150th time, has been organised around four pillars:

  • One billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage;
  • One billion more people better protected from health emergencies;
  • One billion more people enjoying better health and well-being;
  • More effective and efficient WHO providing better support to countries. 

A significant focus of the board meeting will be on non-communicable diseases (NCDs). By Wednesday, the EB is expected to have adopted a “draft implementation road map 2023–2030” to prevent and control NCDs. 

Proposals to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, better control diabetes, improve oral health and ensure that people with NCDs can still access treatment during humanitarian emergencies form part of the draft policies.

The NCD Alliance is calling on member states to put the draft policies related to NCDs forward for adoption to the 75th WHA.

The EB will also appoint the Director-General for the next four years – and the only candidate officially nominated so far is the current office-bearer, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.


Image Credits: HPW/Catherine Saez.

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