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WHO pandemic agreement enters final round

by Haruna Gimba
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By Muhammad Amaan

The 194 member countries of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday began a final push to reach an agreement on a pandemic preparedness treaty in Geneva.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO members called for an accord aimed at ensuring countries were better equipped to handle the next catastrophic outbreak and have the global response be less chaotic.

For instance, advocates want the planned treaty to include a supply chain network coordinated by the WHO so that all countries have access to the medicines they need in an emergency without trade restrictions.

Similarly, part of the production of medicines or vaccines would be made available to poorer countries free of charge or at low cost.

The provisions would only apply to countries that ratify the agreement. It would come into force once 60 countries have done so.

The goal was to have the treaty adopted at this year’s World Health Assembly, which is the WHO’s supreme decision-making body. The meeting will be held starting at the end of May.

But the last round of negotiations earlier this year failed to reach a breakthrough.

The talks that began on Monday is seen as the last opportunity to forge an agreement before the May deadline.

In the struggle to reach consensus, the negotiators have presented a radically shortened draft compared to the earlier version.

It now runs to 23 pages, with numerous contested provisions omitted.

One controversial issue is whether and how pharmaceutical companies should be obliged to share expertise and make a portion of their products available to poorer countries.

The aid organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) argues that the treaty must regulate global health and justice issues and not just protect the interests of the industry.

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