Urgent Need to Move on Pandemic Treaty as COVID-19 Threatens Economic and Political Stability Pandemics & Emergencies 03/12/2021 • Kerry Cullinan 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 print (Opens in new window) Ambassador Grata Endah Werdaningtyas, co-chair of the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies Now that the World Health Assembly Special Session has overwhelmingly resolved to negotiate a “pandemic accord”, the urgent work of producing a workable plan to tackle future pandemics begins. This was the view of speakers – most of whom have been integrally involved in “pandemic accord” discussions – addressing an event convened by the Global Health Centre at the Graduate School of International and Development Studies (IHEID) and the United Nations Foundation on Friday. Colin McIff, co-chair of the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies (WGPR) that brokered the pandemic accord decision, said the two mandates of group were almost “in conflict”. The first was to assess the International Health Regulations (IHR) that currently govern health emergencies, scanning them for gaps, and the second was to examine the benefits of setting up a WHO instrument on pandemic preparedness and response. “These were very challenging mandates,” said McIff, who is Deputy Director of Global Affairs at the US Department of Health and Human Services. “What we did as a bureau [of the WGPR] very early on was agree that the only way to achieve progress was to keep them as integrated as possible.” “It was necessary to look at the existing tools and and regulations like the IHR, before looking at a new instrument and to define what those gaps are,” said McIff. By the fourth WGPR meeting, the issue of equity was put squarely on the table by the Africa group, added McIff. The WHASS showed that “there was consensus among Member States, both to take forward a new instrument and to take concrete meaningful steps to strengthen the IHR and to tackle some of these key issues like equity, like sample sharing, like One Health issues”, he added. Colin McIff, co-chair of the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies (WGPR) Elusive issue of equity Indonesia’s Ambassador Grata Endah Werdaningtyas, the other WGPR co-chair, said the pandemic treaty is “a little bit burdened by the hopes of a lot of member states in terms of finding the final solution of our problem”. “The treaty itself is not a panacea. It has to work in coherent alignment with the existing mechanisms that we have, including the IHR,” she stressed. “The treaty will not stand on its own.” Werdaningtyas conceded that inequity would not be solved by a new instrument but could be addressed by, for example, “building core capacity in terms of supply compliance and in terms of strengthening our health system”. WGPR member Dr Malebogo Kebabonye said that WHO member states now had to define how a pandemic accord would work, says, adding that the working group would continue to operate until mid-2022 as it still had to conclude proposals on how to strengthen the IHR. Pandemic focus, not panacea Prof Ilona Kickbusch Despite the WHO now referring to the new instrument as an “accord”, Professor Ilona Kickbusch, said she insisted on it being called a treaty. She said clarity needed to be reached about its focus – and that it could not be about solving all the problems in global health over the past 75 years, as some seemed to think. “There is no process of proclaiming a pandemic. If there is to be one, what would this trigger?” asked Kickbusch, chair of the Global Health Center’s International Advisory Board. She also said there was an urgent need for increased financing. “My hair stands on end when I see the expectations on the WHO emergency programme [in comparison to] its budget. Impatience is giving way to anger Preeti Sudan, a member of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response However, speakers also expressed frustration that the final text of a pandemic accord would only be presented to the 2024 Wold Health Assembly. “The pandemic is still raging, reinventing itself, throwing up new challenges. Financing is required urgently, the WHO needs to be strengthened. It needs independent financing. How do we do that?” asked Preeti Sudan, a member of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. “Do we need do we then wait for 2024? How do we address issues of inequity? The situation is dynamic and extremely serious.” Elhadj As Sy, Co-Chair of the WHO Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, also appealed for urgency. “What we really have not really taken into account fully is the degree of impatience that is really growing among citizens and communities,” he said. “That is translating into anger. And that is translating into mistrust and then we should not let that continue. Because then we will not only have a health problem or a pandemic to deal with but a much bigger societal and political issue that will threaten all our efforts.” Elhadj As Sy, Co-Chair of the WHO Global Preparedness Monitoring Board 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 print (Opens in new window) Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.