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27 May, 2024 19:51

WHO ‘confident’ on pandemic treaty

Negotiators once again failed to produce a draft deal last week
WHO ‘confident’ on pandemic treaty

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday expressed confidence that a deal on a global pandemic accord can still be reached, Reuters has reported.

For more than two years, ministers from among the WHO’s 194 member states have been struggling to draft a treaty on new pandemic response rules in the wake of Covid-19, which the global health body estimates has killed 13 million people since 2019. Negotiators once again failed to produce a draft deal last Friday for formal approval by the World Health Assembly this week.

“Of course, we all wish that we had been able to reach a consensus on the agreement in time for this health assembly, and cross the finish line,” Tedros told the assembly in his opening address.

He said “where there is a will, there is a way” and that he “remains confident” that a deal can still happen. “I know that there remains among you a common will to get this done,” the director-general told the assembly.

WHO member nations had asked the UN health agency in 2021 to oversee talks for a pandemic agreement and envoys have been working in recent weeks to formulate a draft document ahead of a self-imposed deadline this month.

However, according to media reports, negotiators were divided on numerous issues. Reuters reported that health officials were frustrated with discussions stretching past midnight, with last-minute U-turns on positions and with growing criticism that such a treaty would undermine national sovereignty.

According to the report, a truck with a sign reading “NO to the Pandemic Treaty. STOP the UN Power Grab” was seen near the UN headquarters in Geneva, where the talks are being held.

Earlier this month, Republican senators wrote a letter to US President Joe Biden denouncing the draft agreement, for “shredding intellectual property rights” and potentially “supercharging the WHO,” and called on Biden not to sign off.

The whole process could take up to another two years to complete, a senior US administration official told Reuters, adding that Washington was still committed to the process.

Talks are reportedly still ongoing to update existing rules on disease outbreaks, with a new tiered system of alerts being discussed as a response to criticism that the WHO was slow to act on the Covid-19 pandemic in its early stages.

Covid-19 initially emerged in late 2019 and developed into the largest epidemic in nearly a century. The WHO said in a new report last week that an estimated 13 million people died during the pandemic.