World Health Assembly is Likely to See Basic ‘Consensus’ Pandemic Agreement as Hard Decisions are Deferred
Negotiations underway for a pandemic agreement at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

While the next draft of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic agreement is due to be sent to member states by Thursday (18 April), it is likely to be stripped of contentious clauses.

Instead, the draft – and indeed, the pandemic agreement to be put to the World Health Assembly (WHA) at the end of  May – will be an “instrument of essentials”; a basic text that will be fleshed out by further talks in the next couple of years, as reported recently by Health Policy Watch.

After the WHA has adopted the framework, more details will be fleshed out over the next 12 to 24 months. Thereafter, a  Conference of Parties has been proposed, but sources close to the discussions say this is only likely to convene in the latter half of 2026 – so fingers crossed that there’s no pandemic before that!

The ninth intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) meeting, from 18-28 March, was due to be the last before the WHA. But there was little agreement between the key power blocs: the European Union, UK, Japan and US; the 34-strong Group of Equity (headlined by Bangladesh, India, Brazil and Indonesia) and the Africa Group.

After days of circular negotiations and countries’ loss of patience with one another and the INB Bureau, parties resolved that the agreement to be put to the WHA would focus on areas of convergence.

This has seen the text slim from a completely unwieldy 100-page draft on 26 March, with multiple opposing clauses contained in brackets, to the current 20-pager, according to insiders.

Country obligations in, international obligations out

Likely to be in the latest draft are many of the countries’ obligations to prevent and prepare for pandemics (for example, Articles 4,5 and 6).

But many of the articles that deal with international co-operation will be delayed. For example, the operating mechanism of the contested pathogen access and benefit-sharing (PABS) system – Article 12 – is likely to be “further defined in a legally binding instrument  that is operational no later than 31 May 2026”, according to a proposal made to parties by INB deputy chair Viroj Tangcharoensathien of Thailand.

What has survived in Article 12, however, is the proposal that the WHO will get 20% of pandemic-related health goods (10% as a donation and 10% at affordable prices) to allocate to those most in need. At least that will go some way to securing a little stash of vaccines for poor countries should another pandemic sweep through the world soon.

The “modalities, terms and conditions, and operational dimensions” of a One Health approach have also been kicked down the line, to become operational no later than 31 May 2027, according to Geneva Health Files.

Also missing is are financial commitments to fund countries’ pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

However, even the section on research and development (Article 9) has been pared down, with no obligations placed on public-funded research although there seemed to be broad consensus on that, according to a draft published by Politico Europe. 

The ninth INB meeting resumes from 29 April to 10 May where member states will iron out further issues with the slimmed-down agreement.

“Civil society continues to call for access to the resumed negotiations, while pushing for a successful conclusion to the negotiating process, a meaningful agreement, and a human rights-based approach,” according to the Pandemic Action Network.

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