GENEVA (AFP): The world must study the wreckage of COVID-19 and say “never again” by striking a pandemic preparedness treaty, the WHO said Monday as countries gathered to build the foundations of a new accord.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said another disastrous pandemic was bound to happen unless countries showed the resolve to strengthen global defences.
Nations are meeting in Geneva from Monday to Wednesday to discuss an international agreement setting out how to handle the next pandemic – which experts fear is only a matter of time.
The gathering comes with the planet still besieged by COVID-19, nearly two years on from the first cases recorded in China, and now shaken by Omicron, the new COVID variant of concern.
WHO member states reached a consensus Sunday on kick-starting the process towards a pandemic treaty.
The draft decision was secured after countries agreed to compromise – notably the United States, which is lukewarm on whether the outcome needs to be a legally-binding treaty.
The decision is expected to be formalised on Wednesday.
“The emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” Tedros told world leaders at the start of the three-day gathering.
“Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics.
“Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we’re done with COVID-19, it’s not done with us.
“It will all happen again unless you, the nations of the world, can come together to say with one voice: never again.” This meeting of the World Health Assembly – the WHO’s decision-making body comprising all 194 member states – is an unprecedented special session on how to handle the next pandemic.
It should thrash out how far countries are prepared to go towards legally-binding commitments on issues like equitable vaccine distribution, knowledge-sharing, financing and oversight structures, with any final deal due to come into force in 2024.
A key issue down the line could be whether countries want beefed-up powers for the WHO to investigate the sources of outbreaks. Tedros said the lack of data-sharing early in the COVID pandemic had been a hindrance.