Global Health

WHO Pandemic Treaty: what is it and how will it save lives in the future?

The Pandemic treaty is expected to be finalized by May 2024, and would come into force once it has been ratified by two-thirds of WHO member states.

The Pandemic treaty is expected to be finalized by May 2024, and would come into force once it has been ratified by two-thirds of WHO member states. Image: Pexels/CDC

Emma Farge
Correspondent, Reuters Geneva
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Global Health?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Global Health is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Global Health

  • Negotiations on new rules for dealing with pandemics are underway at the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • The pandemic treaty seeks to shore up the world's defenses against new pathogens following the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The pact would include provisions for sharing data, funding research and development, and responding to outbreaks.
  • It would also include provisions for strengthening surveillance and early warning systems and for building up stockpiles of medical supplies.

Negotiations on new rules for dealing with pandemics are underway at the World Health Organization (WHO), with a target date of May 2024 for a legally binding agreement to be adopted by the U.N. health agency's 194 member countries.

A new pact is a priority for WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who called it a "generational commitment that we will not go back to the old cycle of panic and neglect" at the U.N. agency's annual assembly. It seeks to shore up the world's defences against new pathogens following the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed nearly 7 million people.

What is the so-called Pandemic Treaty?

The WHO already has binding rules known as the International Health Regulations, which in 2005 set out countries' obligations where public health events have the potential to cross borders. These include advising the WHO immediately of a health emergency and measures on trade and travel.

Adopted after the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, these regulations are still considered appropriate for regional epidemics, such as Ebola but inadequate for a global pandemic. These regulations are also being reviewed in the wake of COVID-19.

For the new more wide-reaching pandemic accord, member states have agreed that it should be legally binding for those who sign up, overcoming early reservations from the United States.

It would be only the second such health accord after the 2003 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty which aims to reduce smoking via taxation and rules on labelling and advertising.

However, the proposed pandemic treaty has come under fire on social media, mostly from right-wing critics warning it could lead to countries ceding authority to the WHO. The body strongly refutes this, stressing that governments are leading the negotiations and are free to reject the accord.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing about fighting pandemics?

How do countries view the pact?

The European Union, which proposed the accord, is seen as its biggest backer. Developing countries, especially in Africa, are keen to use the negotiations to secure better access to vaccines, following allegations of "vaccine apartheid" from the WHO's Director-General Tedros.

After five rounds of formal negotiations, the latest 208-page draft of the treaty still includes thousands of brackets, which mark areas of disagreement or undecided language, including over the definition of the word "pandemic". With so many member countries involved, securing agreement may be tricky.

How would it work?

It is not yet clear how the 2005 regulations and the new pandemic accord might fit together.

One suggestion is that they should be complementary, so that existing rules apply to local outbreaks with the new rules kicking in if the WHO declares a pandemic - something it does not currently have a mandate to do.

It is also not yet clear what happens if the measures are not followed. A co-chair of the talks said it would be preferable to have a peer-review process, rather than sanction non-compliant states.

Have you read?

What other reforms are in the works?

Separate talks on reforming the 2005 rules are taking place, with countries proposing some 300 amendments.

Washington's initial proposals aimed to boost transparency and grant the WHO quicker access to outbreak sites.

China did allow WHO-led expert teams to visit the COVID-19 epicentre in Wuhan, but the WHO says Beijing is still withholding clinical data from early cases that may hold clues about the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Negotiators privately grumble about overlap between the two sets of talks and a joint meeting to clarify their agendas is planned.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Promoting healthy habit formation is key to improving public health. Here's why

Adrian Gore

April 15, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum