Pandemics: Towards a new legally binding WHO international agreement

The World Health Organization (WHO) said countries negotiating a new international pandemic management agreement in Geneva have decided it will be legally binding.

A press release from the Organization indicates that “the second meeting of the intergovernmental negotiating body responsible for drafting and negotiating a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on prevention, preparedness and response to pandemic ends with an agreement that the new instrument should be legally binding”.

The measure was discussed by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (OIN) responsible for negotiating this agreement during its second meeting in Geneva.

The UN World Health Agency has noted that “As with all international instruments, any new agreement, if approved by the Member States, is drawn up and negotiated by the governments themselves, which will then put in place all the measures respectful of their sovereignty”.

Members of the OIN “have decided, by consensus, that they will work on a new international pandemic agreement which will be legally binding”, the WHO added, noting that the body hopes to close the deal in May 2024.

Tedros hails a “historic breakthrough”

More broadly, the OIN experts recognized the importance of the work to amend the International Health Regulations (2005) and the need for consistency and complementarity between the two projects. And WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed this “historic breakthrough to protect families and communities around the world against the threat of future pandemics”.

The importance of a legally binding instrument cannot be overstated: it will be part of our collective legacy for future generations,” said Dr. Tedros.

“Today’s decision is an important first step in the critical work we are doing together. But we still have many mountains to climb. It’s a process that will require us to support each other.”added OIN South African co-chair Precious Matsoso.

Last December, following the human devastation and socio-economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 194 Member States of the WHO launched a process of drafting and negotiating a new international instrument.

According to the WHO, this work of the OIN aims to prevent, better respond to pandemics, as well as to advance the principles of equity, solidarity and health for all.

The next meeting of OIN members will be held next December and they will report to the 76th World Health Assembly in 2023.

And Matsoso concludes: “As Co-Chairs of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body, we are grateful to have committed Member States and resolute Bureau members to carry out our collective work.”

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