Countries meeting in Geneva to negotiate a new international pandemic management agreement decided on Thursday that it would be legally binding, the World Health Organization said.
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The members of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (IBO), responsible for negotiating this agreement, “have decided, by consensus, that they will work on a new international agreement on pandemics which will be legally binding”, declared the WHO in a statement.
"As with all international instruments, any new agreement, if approved by the Member States, is drafted and negotiated by the governments themselves, which will then put in place all the measures respectful of their sovereignty", specifies the organization.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the decision. “The importance of a legally binding instrument cannot be overemphasized: it will be part of our collective legacy for future generations,” he said.
“Today’s decision is an important first step in the critical work we are doing together. But we still have many mountains to climb. This is a process that will require us to support each other,” added OIN South African Co-Chair Precious Matsoso.
In December, following the human and economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 194 Member States of the WHO launched a process of drafting and negotiating a new international instrument, the OIN, in order to better prevent and respond to pandemics.
Its next meeting will be in December and it will report to the 2023 World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of WHO member states.
The OIN hopes to conclude the agreement in May 2024. Until then, countries will face many challenges, such as the ambition of the commitments that countries are ready to make, including on the equitable distribution of vaccines, knowledge sharing, financing, control structures and outbreak investigation.
A defining question will be whether countries want the WHO to have increased powers to investigate the origin of outbreaks. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the lack of data sharing had been an obstacle in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The United States stands ready to be part of this process, to find a solution to pandemic preparedness and response. We've fallen short on Covid-19 and we want to fix that,” Loyce Pace, assistant secretary for global affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters. , present in Geneva for the negotiations.
Pace said Washington was open to a mix of binding and non-binding options. "What we prefer the most (...) is something that will work for the world," she said, "We don't want to make false promises that we collectively cannot or will not deliver. ".