Proposed pandemic treaty could boost transparency, strengthen IHR

Our COVID-19 coverage is free. Please consider a Devex Pro subscription to support our journalism.
European Council President Charles Michel, left, beside a screen showing WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press conference in Brussels. Photo by: Dursun Aydemir / Reuters

Over 20 government leaders, as well as the president of the European Council and director-general at the World Health Organization, backed a call for a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response that would tackle challenges exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This could include challenges in sharing data, pathogens, technologies, and products such as vaccines, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“That’s what we hope, but I think that will be for negotiation of all the member states,” Tedros said during a press briefing Tuesday.

The treaty could also address problems on transparency, such as on production and supply chains.

“I think that such a treaty could play an interesting role to make sure that we have more transparency,” said European Council President Charles Michel at the same event.

Michel said more transparency around the supply chains and the level of production of vaccines and diagnostic tests, for example, could lead to better cooperation among countries.

Meanwhile, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said the treaty could create a “much higher level of political engagement and commitment” to the International Health Regulations and strengthen it as a legal instrument for global surveillance.

IHR is an internationally binding treaty outlining the obligations of WHO and member states in a public health emergency. Among its provisions, countries are supposed to immediately report to WHO any unusual or unexplained health events. However, some countries do not, and there is no penalty for countries that fail to report these unusual events.

“The IHR in itself is a piece of legislation. It is without meaning, unless countries are fully committed to its implementation,” Ryan said.

“Such a treaty … will provide that political framework in which we in public health can do our work much more effectively, championing the IHR as a really important instrument of global public health surveillance. But by itself, [the IHR] does not work. Clearly, by itself, it does not do the full job,” he added.

Member states will be negotiating the scope of the treaty and how it will be enforced. It needs to be ratified by each government for it to come into force. WHO hopes a resolution will be available at the 74th World Health Assembly in May.

While only a few countries were included in an op-ed calling for the treaty, which does not include the United States and China, Michel said that there is “quite significant support” for the treaty, including from other bilateral countries.

“Comment from member states, including U.S. and China, was actually positive, and we hope the future engagements will bring all countries [together],” Tedros said.

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.