The World Health Organization’s (WHO) director-general urged on Monday for the start of discussions on an international treaty to improve pandemic preparation this year, as part of comprehensive reforms envisioned by member nations.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated at the organization’s annual ministerial meeting that the United Nations agency faced a “serious challenge” in maintaining its COVID-19 response at the present level and that it needs sustainable and flexible financing.
Earlier in the day – the last of the week-long assembly – health ministers agreed to study recommendations for ambitious reforms made by independent experts to strengthen the capacity of both the WHO and countries to contain new viruses.
The ministers from the WHO’s 194 member states are to meet from Nov. 29 to decide whether to launch negotiations on the pandemic treaty.
“The one recommendation that I believe will do most to strengthen both WHO and global health security is the recommendation for a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response,” Tedros said. “This is an idea whose time has come.”
If such a pact is to be negotiated, there may be a long road ahead. After four years of talks, the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first public health treaty, was signed in 2003.
The WHO, which has been at the center of the world’s slow reaction to the COVID-19 epidemic, may be restructured to prevent future outbreaks.
The European Union’s resolution, which was unanimously supported, calls for member states to be firmly in control of the changes over the course of a year.
“It’s essential that we strengthen global (disease) surveillance and provide the World Health Organization with the authority and the capacity to do this important job for all the peoples of the world,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the talks.
“If we are to deliver on this ambitious reform agenda, then we must work together and put other issues aside,” he said.
The new virus has infected more than 170 million people and killed nearly 3.7 million since emerging in China in late 2019, according to a Reuters tally of official national figures.
“PATHOGENS HAVE THE UPPER HAND”
WHO’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan, welcomed the decisions, saying: “Right now the pathogens have the upper hand, they are emerging more frequently and often silently in a planet that is out of balance.
“We need to turn that very thing that has exposed us in this pandemic, our interconnectedness, we need to turn that into a strength,” he said.
A pandemic treaty, according to Chile’s envoy Frank Tressler Zamorano, would assist “heed the call by so many experts to reset the system”
One group, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, suggested that a new worldwide system be established to respond quickly to disease outbreaks in order to assist guarantee that no subsequent virus produces a pandemic as severe as COVID-19.
The experts, who discovered critical shortcomings in the global response in early 2020, said the WHO should be granted the authority to dispatch investigators quickly to track down new disease outbreaks and disclose their entire findings as soon as possible.