Countries agree to a special session on pandemic treaty as WHA closes

World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by: Christopher Black / WHO

The World Health Assembly agreed to hold a special session looking at the merits of developing a pandemic treaty just before the meeting closed on Monday, a day earlier than expected.

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Though there was some pushback on starting discussions about the treaty in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions around it generated the most interest throughout the 74th WHA.

In its intervention, Chile, a co-sponsor of the resolution calling for a special session, urged countries to now start negotiations, coordinate their efforts, and come to the special session in November “with a joint version that will allow us to advance and take decisions on processes that are necessary in developing these international instruments on pandemics, and that will reinforce the global health structure.”

Draft decision on pandemic treaty expected to be adopted today at WHA

A pandemic treaty can address many of the failings in the response to the current pandemic. A proposed draft decision asking WHO director-general to convene a special session of the WHA is expected to be adopted later today.

Why it matters: Experts and some countries see the creation of a pandemic treaty as a means to strengthen the World Health Organization and the implementation of the International Health Regulations. They also see a treaty as a means to ascribe responsibilities to governments and other stakeholders and include mechanisms for accountability.

In his closing remarks, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “the safety of the world’s people cannot rely solely on the goodwill of governments.”

While acknowledging a treaty or any international agreement should be inclusive and “carefully considered,” Tedros said it’s also “urgent” and that “there is no reason we can’t do both.”

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.