Wednesday, 17 April, 2024
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UN approves global accord on pandemic response

A political declaration by UN member states on more effective pandemic preparedness and response was approved at a High Level Meeting last week, signalling recognition “that pandemic threats are much more than simply health emergencies”.

This is according to Carolyn Reynolds, co-founder of the Pandemic Action Network, which has pushed for a broader approach to preparedness and response since the Covid pandemic.

“Pandemics are a global systemic risk and existential threat to humanity, and we must treat them as such,” she said.

However, the declaration has been criticised as lacking real commitments, beyond the pledge to convene another meeting in 2026, writes Elaine Ruth Fletcher for Health Policy Watch.

Heads of state from leading countries were noticeably absent during the member states’ comments after the plenary, with most interventions led by Health Ministers.

WHO member states must now reach agreement on a pandemic accord that places equity at the centre of global response, said former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, co-chair of the Independent Panel, the WHO-appointed body that slammed shortcomings in global pandemic response in 2021.

Additionally, they must agree to revisions in WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR) that empower the WHO to “sound the alarm rapidly with evidence and without bureaucracy”, Clark said.

Governance: who leads?

However, critics are sceptical about the ability of WHO – representing politically weak Health Ministries – to enforce the tough, binding commitments vital for effective pandemic response.

Advocates for more UN-centred action recommend the creation of an independent pandemic governance mechanism in the office of the UN Secretary-General, and/or a UN Global Threats Council, to oversee the implementation of any pandemic accord approved by member states.

“Action at the level of head of state and government is critical to break the cycle of panic and neglect… around pandemics … to sustain political momentum around preparedness and response,” said Clark, who wants a UN-hosted Global Threats Council to be formed.

R&D and tech transfer 

Also needed are broader reforms in mechanisms to finance improvements in developing country health systems, and to ensure R&D and technology transfer, speakers said.

“There must be a pre-negotiated and financed end-to-end ecosystem for medical counter-measures,” Clark added.

“Every region needs the technology, knowledge and local capacity to stop outbreaks, and essential supplies to safeguard human life must be accessible. No country should be at the mercy of global markets to protect their citizens.”

While some $2bn has been gathered for a new World Bank-managed Pandemic Fund, that is inadequate compared with what debt-burdened countries need to improve their health systems and prepare hospitals, data systems and laboratory facilities to meet future threats.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said many developing countries were “drowning in debt”.

“Africa spends more on debt-service costs than on healthcare and education. We need a finance boost so that countries can invest in universal, resilient healthcare.

“We’re calling on countries to … scale up affordable long-term financing by at least $500bn annually, to support the development of a debt-relief mechanism that supports payments, suspensions, longer lending terms and lower rates for developing countries drowning in debt – creating the fiscal space to spend on the health to which people have a right.”

The declaration is a strong signal that countries are committed and strengthening their defences against pandemics, said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“For too long, the world has operated on a cycle of panic and neglect. When an epidemic or pandemic strikes, response is in crisis mode and when it passes, they move on to the next crisis, failing to learn the lessons that could prevent or mitigate the next pandemic,” he said

A WHO Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) will resume meetings on the Geneva Pandemic Accord text in November, with further meetings in December and January.

Divisions

Key divisions have emerged between developing and developed countries over Pandemic Accord language around equity and access to the diagnostics, treatments and vaccines needed to counter future pandemics.

Simultaneously, there are geopolitical divides over how new pathogen threats might be reported more rapidly, and effective action taken, with fears that such commitments could erode national sovereignty.

“The process is slow and … contentious issues need attention,” said Tedros. “But the areas are now identified and member states will get into real negotiations on the issues dividing them, and …find common ground.”

 

Health Policy Watch article – UN High Level Meeting Approves ‘Historic’ but Non-Binding Declaration on Pandemic Preparedness and Response (Creative Commons Licence)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

WHO issues new advisory for global Covid response plans

 

World ‘dangerously unprepared’ for another pandemic: Red Cross

 

Columbia-Brenthurst report: Pandemic Response in Africa: Covid-19 in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa

 

Why did it take 2 years for WHO to admit that COVID is airborne?

 

 

 

 

 

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