For months experts and critics have been exhorting WHO and its member states to use the organization’s constitutional mandate specifically its treaty-making powers to deftly address the urgency of the pandemic.
Mostly critics want WHO to use its constitutional powers to quell the pandemic and to address the difficult issue of access to medicines, for example, given the glaring inequities in the access to vaccines during the current pandemic.
However, given the inexorable emphasis on global health security, it was perhaps not so surprising when DG Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus casually put the idea of a pandemic treaty to member states during the proceedings of the Executive Board meeting this week. And yet, it was surprising to even traditional WHO watchers.
He asked member states to work on a resolution to be tabled at the May 2021 World Health Assembly to find ways of working towards a pandemic treaty which he said is a “very good idea”. He said that such a treaty could give a political dimension to the International Health Regulations (2005). If such a treaty becomes a reality, it will only be second to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which was negotiated by member states in 2003.
The DG also revealed that this proposal was first suggested by Charles Michel, President of the European Council, the institution which sets the political direction for EU member states. Given the overall importance of the EU in the response to the pandemic, this nudge from the European Council is perhaps not unexpected. But what remains to be seen, is what this will mean for other member states for WHO.
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