WHO chief: pandemic treaty is ‘mission critical for humanity’

Future generations may not forgive World Health Organization member countries if they fail to agree a treaty on the pandemic, the organisation’s head said at the Warwick economic summit on Saturday, calling the agreement “mission critical for the humanity”.

Despite the lessons that should have been learned during COVID-19, the world is unprepared for the next pandemic, whether it is a flu virus, another coronavirus, or “Disease X,” a term the organization has been using since 2018 to refer to a disease as yet unknown pandemic pathogen, said Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking virtually from Geneva at the summit, held in Coventry, England.

The world was already unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, and because of this, “poorer countries were left behind, waiting for scraps,” he said, when it came to access to tests, therapies and vaccines.

“We cannot let the same thing happen next time, and there will be another time,” he warned.

WHO member states met in Geneva in 2022 and agreed to develop an international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response that would become international law, “a legally binding pact between countries working together,” Ghebreyesus said.

A draft had been developed after “extensive consultations” with member states, public health experts, academic groups and citizens, and public hearings had been held on it, he said. Countries have set themselves a deadline to agree on such a draft, before the annual World Health Assembly, which will be held from May 27 to June 1 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The treaty is not unprecedented in scope, says WHO chief

But two main obstacles stand in the way of the deal, Ghebreyesus said. The first concerns a group of issues that, while not insurmountable, require further negotiation. The second: “a torrent of fake news, lies and conspiracy theories”.

Among them, he said: that the agreement is a “WHO power grab” and a “conspiracy” that would give the international health organization the ability to initiate lockdowns and/or vaccination mandates.

Objections to the pandemic treaty were recently fueled by online rumors regarding “Disease X” ahead of a January session on the topic at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which Ghebreyesus attended.

The normal pandemic preparedness session was blown out of proportion as right-wing social media accounts criticized the session, accusing world leaders of meeting to discuss plans to impose vaccine mandates, limit free speech and even plan themselves pandemics.

Among the interested parties: former deputy secretary for public affairs of the US Treasury Department during the Trump era and Fox News analyst Monica Crowleywhich, in view of the January session, tweeted an unfounded warning that “unelected globalists at the World Elected Forum will hold a panel on a future pandemic 20 times deadlier than COVID.”

“Just in time for the election, a new contagion to allow them to implement a new WHO treaty, reimpose lockdown, limit free speech and destroy more freedom,” he wrote. “Does it seem far-fetched? That’s what happened in 2020.”

Such claims are “completely false,” Ghebreyesus said on Saturday. “We don’t have the power to do that. We don’t want it. We’re not trying to get it.

Furthermore, nations signing the agreement will be able to withdraw at any time, he said, adding that the agreement “will affirm the sovereignty of nations.”

He encouraged skeptical parties to review a draft of the treaty on the organization’s website.

Similar international treaties have been made regarding chemical, nuclear and biological weapons, as well as tobacco and climate change, he added.

Public health experts are supportive, but not without concerns

The world needs a “robust” pandemic treaty, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association Fortune on Saturday. He is concerned, however, that when nations eventually approve such an agreement, “it will be watered down and therefore meaningless.”

“We currently have difficulty getting nations to comply with agreements under international health regulations,” he said. “Accountability is key here, but we will have to see.”

The legally binding treaty should have “teeth,” he added, “but they rarely do.”

Furthermore, in the United States, an approved treaty would have to be approved by the Senate to be binding. Although the nation signed a WHO tobacco control treaty adopted in 2003, it has never ratified it.

Even if a treaty is agreed upon and the Biden administration approves it, “What will the United States do with it?” Benjamin asked. “We have not yet approved the tobacco treaty.”

said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Fortune that an international treaty or similar mechanism is critical for optimal preparedness and response to future pandemics.

He fears, however, that this mechanism could be used to “undermine intellectual property rights in the name of pandemic preparedness.”

“It is intellectual property rights that facilitate the development of the tools that are the ultimate solution to minimizing the impact of a pandemic,” he said.

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