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Explainer: How the World Health Organization can fight future pandemics

GENEVA, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Negotiations on new rules for dealing with pandemics are underway at the World Health Organization (WHO), with a target date of May 2024 for a legally binding agreement agreed by the UN health agency’s 194 member states. must be accepted. .

A new deal is a priority for WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as he begins his second five-year term at the helm of the global health agency. It seeks to bolster the world’s defenses against new pathogens following the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 6.5 million people, according to the WHO.

The global health agency itself is facing calls for reform after an independent panel described it as “underpowered” when COVID-19 struck, with limited ability to investigate outbreaks and coordinate containment measures.

WHAT IS THE SO-CALLED PANDEMIC TREATY?

The WHO already has binding rules known as the International Health Regulations (2005) that outline countries’ obligations where public health events have the potential to cross borders. This includes notifying the WHO immediately of a health emergency and measures on trade and travel.

Adopted after the 2002/3 SARS outbreak, these regulations are still seen as functional for regional epidemics such as Ebola, but inadequate for a global pandemic.

Proposed proposals for the pact include sharing data and genome sequencing of emerging viruses and rules on equitable vaccine distribution. read more

Member states agreed in July that the new agreement should be legally binding. Another key meeting is scheduled for December.

It would be only the second such health accord after the 2003 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty aimed at reducing smoking through taxes and rules on labeling and advertising.

HOW DO COUNTRIES CONSIDER THE PACT?

The EU proposed the deal and is seen as its biggest supporter. Developing countries are keen to use the negotiations as an opportunity to secure better access to vaccines, following allegations of “vaccine apartheid” from WHO director-general Tedros.

Members should give their initial feedback to the draft in a public meeting between December 5-7. With so many Member States involved, it is likely to be difficult to reach agreement.

HOW WOULD IT WORK?

It is not yet clear how the 2005 regulations and the new pandemic agreement can fit together.

One suggestion is that they should be complementary, so that existing rules apply to local outbreaks with the new rules kicking in if the WHO declares a pandemic – something it does not currently have a mandate to do.

It remains to be determined whether negotiators will include measures such as sanctions to ensure compliance.

WHAT OTHER REFORMS ARE IN THE WORKS?

Separate talks on an initiative to revise the 2005 rules are taking place, with proposals submitted by the United States, the European Union and at least a dozen others, diplomats say.

Washington’s proposals aim to boost transparency and give the WHO faster access to outbreak sites. Several diplomats said they were likely to be too ambitious, with opposition from China and others expected on grounds of national sovereignty.

China did allow WHO-led expert teams to visit the COVID-19 epicenter in Wuhan, but the WHO says it is still withholding clinical data from early cases that could hold clues to the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. read more

Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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