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WHO Member States reaffirm commitment to draft pandemic treaty 

by Haruna Gimba
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By Muhammad Amaan

Ahead of the 77th World Health Assembly (WHA) billed to take place on May 27, 2024, the World Health Organisation (WHO), said countries have agreed to continue working on the proposed pandemic agreement and to further refine the draft.

The WHO noted that at the government meeting at its headquarters in Geneva, it was agreed that hybrid and in-person discussions should resume over the coming weeks to advance work on critical issues bordering around a proposed new global system for pathogen access and benefits sharing, including life-saving vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.

Other issues are pandemic prevention, world health as well as the financial coordination needed to scale up countries’ capacities to prepare for and respond to pandemics when the need arises.

The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, said Member Nations have shown unwavering commitment to forge a generational agreement to protect the world from a repeat of the horrors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I, therefore, welcome the determination that all countries have shown to continue their work and fulfil the mission on which they embarked,” he added.

The WHO chief noted that the Member State-led Intergovernmental Negotiating Body was established over two years ago to take this effort forward, saying that the Bureau of the INB, which is guiding the process, will submit its outcome for consideration at the World Health Assembly.

The INB Bureau Co-Chair from South Africa, Dr Precious Matsoso, said progress was made during the latest round of discussions on a wide range of issues contained in the draft agreement.

“We are witnessing history play out before our eyes during this process with the coming together of all countries to decide on a binding pact to protect all citizens of the world,” she said.

According to Matsoso, the exercise is not a simple one, adding that it is the first-ever process to develop a proposed agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.

“Getting this done means getting it right, and the INB Bureau is committed to helping finalise a meaningful, lasting agreement,” she assured.

Also, INB Bureau Co-Chair from the Netherlands, Mr Roland Driece, said when countries launched the process two years ago to develop a pandemic agreement, they did so knowing that they had set an ambitious timeline to reach an ambitious goal.

“This unprecedented effort by all WHO Member States was launched in response to an unprecedented global emergency – the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

According to him, the sovereign states did so recognising that great collaboration and coordination were needed in the face of pandemics.

He noted that while negotiations have been challenging at times, all countries agree that the world must be better prepared for the next pandemic.

“It is not a matter of if a pandemic will happen again; it is a matter of when. We cannot afford to miss this historic opportunity to make the world safer from the next pandemic threat,” Driece added.

In March 2021, heads of state and government from two dozen countries committed to a course calling for global collaboration to prepare for, prevent, and respond to pandemics.

It was learned that in December 2021, WHO Member States decided to launch a global process to draft and negotiate a legally binding convention, agreement, or another international instrument to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.

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