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Consensus reached for year-end WHO talks on pandemic treaty

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The WHO has endorsed a proposal, initially made by the European Union, to negotiate a global treaty as a way to ensure countries’ political commitment to fighting disease outbreaks.

File picture: Reuters

GENEVA – South Africa said on Tuesday that consensus has been reached to hold a special session of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision-making body this year to consider negotiating a new international treaty on pandemic preparedness.

The WHO, under fire for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, has endorsed a proposal, initially made by the European Union, to negotiate a global treaty as a way to ensure countries’ political commitment to fighting disease outbreaks.

The WHO’s World Health Assembly will meet from November 29 to December 1.

A report by an independent panel faulted China for being slow to apply public health measures when the first Covid-19 cases emerged in late 2019, and the WHO for waiting too long to declare an emergency a month later.

South Africa’s delegate, speaking on behalf of 26 countries sponsoring the resolution, told the WHO’s annual ministerial assembly: “We are very pleased that we have reached consensus at this World Health Assembly to pass a decision that creates a dedicated moment in November 2021 for a special session of the World Health Assembly to consider the benefits for such a Convention.”

He added: “Probably the most important lesson Covid-19 has taught us is the need for stronger and more agile collective defences against health threats as well as for building resilience to address future potential pandemics.

“A new pandemic treaty is central to this.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the problem was that countries were “inconsistent” in implementing its existing International Health Regulations on notifying disease outbreaks.

“One of the greatest drivers of this pandemic has been the lack of international solidarity and sharing: sharing data, sharing information, sharing pathogens, sharing technologies and sharing resources,” Tedros said.

“We can only address that fundamental weakness with a binding commitment between nations to provide a solid foundation for enhanced cooperation – a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response has been proposed as the means to achieve that.”

Simon Manley, Britain’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said in a tweet: “Negotiations may take time, but this is a historic step towards global health security.”

– REUTERS