The head of the World Health Organization called for the rapid launch of global negotiations to agree on an international treaty on pandemic preparedness, as part of the sweeping reforms envisaged by member states.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, told its annual ministerial meeting on Monday that the United Nations health agency faces a “serious challenge” to maintain its response to COVID-19 at the current level and requires sustainable and flexible financing.
Earlier today, health ministers agreed to consider ambitious reform recommendations made by independent experts to strengthen the capacity of WHO and countries to contain new viruses.
Ministers from WHO’s 194 member states will meet from November 29 to decide whether to start negotiations on the pandemic treaty.
“The one recommendation that I believe will do the most to strengthen WHO and global health security is the recommendation of a pandemic preparedness and response treaty that could also strengthen relationships between member states and foster cooperation. It’s an idea whose time has come, ”said Tedros.
In his closing remarks to the WHO Virtual Annual Health Meeting, Tedros said that “the lack of sharing of data, information, pathogens, technology and resources” was a defining characteristic of the pandemic.
“A [pandemic] This treaty would promote improved sharing, trust and accountability, and provide a solid foundation on which to build other mechanisms for global health security. “
Only two international treaties have already been negotiated under the auspices of the WHO during its 73 years of existence: the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003 and the International Health Regulations in 2005.
The coronavirus has infected more than 170 million people and killed nearly 3.6 million, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.
More funding for WHO
On the last day of the week-long assembly, WHO Member States agreed in a 14-page resolution to “strengthen WHO’s capacity to rapidly and appropriately assess disease outbreaks” likely to become a global concern.
“It is essential to strengthen global surveillance (of diseases) and to give the World Health Organization the authority and the capacity to do this important work for all the people of the world,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the assembly.
According to the findings of three independent panels that reported to the assembly, countries and institutions were unfortunately not prepared to deal with COVID-19. They called for a total overhaul of the global alarm system and a stronger and more independent WHO to help prevent future pandemics.
One of the reports revealed that the United Nations agency had been too slow to declare a so-called public health emergency of international concern. The WHO issued its highest alert level on January 30, 2020.
After days of discussion, members agreed to create a new working group to study and rationalize the many recommendations contained in the reports, and create concrete proposals for next year’s assembly to consider.
The text called on Member States to “ensure adequate, flexible, sustainable and predictable funding for the WHO program budget”.
Only about 16 per cent of WHO’s budget comes from regular dues, the remainder coming from voluntary and heavily earmarked contributions.
Monday’s resolution also called on all countries to strengthen their core public health capacities, increase their capacity to detect new threats and effectively communicate these threats both nationally and internationally.
WHO Emergency Director Mike Ryan praised the decisions, saying: “Right now pathogens have the upper hand, they emerge more frequently and often silently on an unbalanced planet.
“We have to transform this very thing that has exposed us in this pandemic, our interdependence, we have to make it a force,” he said.
Chilean Ambassador Frank Tressler Zamorano said on behalf of 60 countries that a pandemic treaty would help “answer the call by so many experts to reset the system.”
The resolution, meanwhile, stopped before explicitly supporting the experts’ recommendation to give the WHO broader powers to launch investigations or communicate on health threats without waiting for the green light from the countries concerned.