World Health Organization to begin negotiating international pandemic treaty | The BMJ

World Health Organization states agreed on 1 December 2021 to begin negotiating an international agreement on how countries must prevent, prepare for, and react to pandemics.

The decision was made by WHO’s 194 member states, who convened in Geneva for the second ever special session of the World Health Assembly, and what senior WHO officials said was an inflection point in international public health.

The agreement is “a cause for celebration and cause for hope, which we will need,” said WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Let it be said, decades from now when each of us is nothing more than photographs and memories, that we left the world a healthier, safer, fairer place than we found it.”

Member states have agreed to a timeline which could lead to a legally binding treaty tackling the global inequities and political divisions which have facilitated covid-19’s spread and the more than 5.2 million related deaths. It could oblige states to share vaccines and medical equipment in the case of a future pandemic as well as information on emerging health threats.1

The special session was convened after several WHO members called for an international legal framework in May in order to ensure countries respond to future health crises better than they did to covid-19.2

It will take years to draw up any convention and it is unclear exactly what it will cover and how much global authority it will hold, with countries pushing and pulling in different directions.

The international body formed to negotiate the treaty will hold its first meeting before 1 March 2022 to agree timelines and its second by 1 August 2022 to discuss progress on a working draft. It will simultaneously hold public hearings to inform its decisions, deliver a progress report to the 76th World Health Assembly in 2023, and submit an agreement for consideration by the 77th World Health Assembly in 2024.

“There is still a long road ahead,” Ghebreyesus said.

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