Pandemic preparedness treaty need of the hour, says WHO

Pandemic preparedness treaty need of the hour, says WHO

Nations are meeting in Geneva from Monday to Wednesday to discuss an international agreement setting out how to handle the next pandemic

The treaty is expected to come into force from 2024. Credit: AFP Photo

The world must study the wreckage of Covid-19 and say "never again" by striking a pandemic preparedness treaty, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday as countries gathered to build a new accord.

WHO's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said another disastrous pandemic was bound to happen again 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 in the backdrop of a new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, being classified as a "variant of concern". WHO's member states reached a consensus Sunday for kick-starting the process towards a pandemic treaty.

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Countries agreed to set up an intergovernmental body charged with drafting and negotiating a WHO accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. Sunday's draft decision, secured after countries agreed to compromise, is expected to be formalised during the meeting.

"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.

"We shouldn't need another wake-up call. We should all be wide awake to the threat of this virus. But 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," Tedros told the members.

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. The final outcome of the process should come into force from 2024.

The draft decision says WHO member states agree to establish "an intergovernmental negotiating body (INB)... to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response".

The INB's first meeting is expected to be held before March 1, 2022, to elect two co-chairs and four vice-chairs.

A progress report will be presented at the regular WHA annual gathering in 2023, with the final outcome presented for consideration at the 2024 WHA.

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