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A pandemic accord

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World Health Organization member states that have spent the last two years drafting an international accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response still don’t have anything to show for all the work, prompting the WHO chief to beg those countries to “get this done” as they prepare for one final week of last ditch talks.

Countries decided to return to the WHO headquarters in Geneva for a fortnight of do or die extra talks, to try to break the deadlock over issues such as equitable access to vaccines, and how to share data on emerging pathogens.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has acknowledged that for some, the agreement is either too specific, not specific enough, too strong, or too weak. But he is urging naysayers no to block everyone else from coming to a deal.

“I have one simple request: please, get this done,” Tedros said, in a direct appeal in the negotiating room.

Each of the draft agreement’s 37 articles is being thrashed out in turn, with country negotiators breaking off into working groups to try to figure out a consensus.

The goal of the talks is to get an agreement ready for adoption at the WHO’s annual assembly of member states, which starts on May 27.

In December 2021, after COVID-19 demonstrated how a pandemic can kill millions, shred economies, and cripple health systems, countries were motivated to seek a binding framework of commitments aimed at preventing another such disaster. However, big differences quickly emerged on how to go about it.

The main disputes revolve around access and equity: access to pathogens detected within countries, and to pandemic fighting products such as vaccines produced from that knowledge; and equitable distribution of not only counter-pandemic tests, treatments, and jabs, but the means to produce them.

The problem with surviving a pandemic is that as we have gotten used to the new normal, the sense of urgency has been lost, lulling nations in to a sense of false security, thinking they have the time to “protect” their interests that could be affected by any international accord that requires openness and cooperation if it is going to be effective at stopping another one.

Let us hope that the negotiators of the member states drafting the international accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response will act in the best interests of the common good, fully aware that only true international cooperation can stop another pandemic from ever inflicting the same damage to humanity as COVID-19 did, simply because we didn’t know better and weren’t prepared back then. A failure to better prepare the world for another pandemic, which is still a likely scenario, would be catastrophic.*

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