What is the pandemic agreement and why have negotiations been so difficult? | global development

World health leaders will gather in Geneva on May 27 at the annual World Health Assembly, where a new agreement for countries to work together to prepare for, prevent and respond to pandemics, known as the “ pandemic agreement.”

It was first proposed by world leaders in early 2021, promising to avoid the mistakes of the Covid-19 pandemic next time.

The negotiation process, involving nearly 200 countries, has proven challenging and the plan has been subject to what World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called “a torrent of fake news, lies and Conspiracy theories”.

Talks are likely to go down to the wire and a finished text may not be ready before the assembly deadline. But those involved say this is an opportunity to make the world safer – and fairer – that humanity cannot afford to miss.

What is the idea behind the agreement?

The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact worldwide. Around 7 million deaths have been directly attributed to the virus, but indirect deaths are believed to be at least twice as many. The disruption caused by the virus caused poverty and hunger to increase. Health systems could no longer reliably provide the regular care people needed, and people living in the poorest countries were often the hardest hit.

The promise of the agreement was to ensure that the world was better prepared and protected against future pandemics, with equitable access to the tools necessary to stop potential pandemic outbreaks in their tracks, as well as to vaccines and treatments.

In announcing the plans, world leaders said a treaty would be “our legacy that protects our children and grandchildren” and promised to be “guided by solidarity, justice, transparency, inclusion and equity.”

Has it worked like that?

Many activists have expressed disappointment as details of the negotiations have emerged. This month, Global Justice Now accused rich countries of “refusing to learn the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic” and blocking measures to confront the vested interests of big pharma.

Others have questioned the need for a treaty, suggesting that it will not necessarily solve the problems that arose during the Covid pandemic, and that countries are likely to ignore any elements of a treaty that they do not agree with during an emergency.

Precious Matsoso of South Africa, co-chair of the intergovernmental negotiating body overseeing the talks, said progress was being made and promised “a meaningful and lasting agreement.”

And there is a feeling that it is necessary to analyze it. Michel Kazatchkine, former member of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, said: “It is worth it, because it provides a basis. It is very unlikely that it will respond to all the challenges on the plate, but I think that failure would be really terrible for the multilateral system, for the world of solidarity that we all want to see in the future, for the WHO, for the The United Nations. So we have to work very hard until the last minute to achieve something.”

What stage are the negotiations at?

This week, negotiators have met almost every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in an attempt to finish negotiations in time for the assembly.

It follows multiple negotiation sessions in which draft texts have been presented and hashed out. The latest publicly available draft suggests there has been agreement in many areas, including the need for countries to “strengthen science, public health and population literacy about the pandemic.” It includes plans to establish a “conference of the parties (Cp)” to periodically review implementation of the agreement and promises of additional financial resources for low-income countries.

But there are still areas of real sticking points, including the issue of “pathogen access and benefit sharing.” If poorer countries grant richer nations – and their big pharmaceutical companies – access to materials and information on pathogens that could become a pandemic, can those poorer countries be guaranteed access to the resulting vaccines and medicines? ? More recent drafts of the agreement have suggested that such a system could be agreed in principle, but the details have been postponed for later discussion.

It is not yet clear whether the agreement will be a treaty (which will give it greater force in international law) or a regulation.

Does the agreement take away sovereignty from the countries?

The deal has been the subject of a huge amount of misinformation and disinformation, including false claims that the deal would give the WHO the power to impose lockdowns or require countries to give away a fifth of their vaccines.

A WHO spokesperson responded to similar recent claims by the UK’s Nigel Farage by saying that such claims were “false and have never been requested or proposed. “This agreement will not and cannot grant sovereignty to the WHO.”

But in many countries, the debate has become politicized and concerns about sovereignty have affected mainstream politics. This month, UK Health Minister Andrew Stephenson told the House of Commons that the current text was “not acceptable” to the UK government and stressed that “protecting our sovereignty is a British red line”. In New Zealand, too, negotiators have been told to prioritize sovereignty.

The draft text of the agreement reaffirms “the principle of state sovereignty in addressing public health issues” and recognizes “the sovereign right of states over their biological resources.”

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