WHO chief renews calls for international treaty on pandemic preparedness

Director general says 'time has come' for global agreement

Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. AFP.
Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. AFP.

The head of the World Health Organisation renewed calls for a global treaty on pandemic preparedness in an address to the UN on Monday.

Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the World Health Assembly that the time "has now come" for an international treaty later this year to help prevent further outbreaks.

"The one recommendation that I believe will do most to strengthen both WHO and global health security is the recommendation for a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response," Dr Tedros said in his closing remarks. "This is an idea whose time has come."

A lack of knowledge-sharing between countries has hampered the global response to coronavirus, Dr Tedros added.

"The defining characteristic of the pandemic is the lack of sharing: of data, information, pathogens, technologies and resources," he said. "These are the challenges we’re facing, we’ve been facing since the pandemic started, and even before."

Ministers from the WHO's 194 member states will meet from November 29 to decide whether to launch negotiations on the pandemic treaty.

"We must seize the moment. In the coming months and years, other crises will demand our attention, and distract us from the urgency of taking action now", Dr Tedros said. "If we make that mistake, we risk perpetuating the same cycle of panic and neglect that has led us to this point."

Reaching a treaty could take a long time. The WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control - the world's first public health treaty - was signed in 2003 after four years of negotiations.

Chile's ambassador, Frank Tressler Zamorano, said on behalf of 60 countries that a pandemic treaty would help the world "heed the call by so many experts to reset the system".

Speaking at the end of the week-long assembly, Dr Tedros also said there were some encouraging signs that the pandemic had peaked in terms of new deaths and infections.

However, he added that the world still had "a lot to do" and that it would be a "monumental" error to think the danger had passed.

Covid-19 has infected more than 170 million people and killed nearly 3.7 million since emerging in China in late 2019.

Published: May 31, 2021 09:19 PM

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