What is driving the discussions for a pandemic treaty?

The idea of a pandemic treaty is germinating from the tending of political actors, internal and external drivers at World Health Organization and by diverse custodians of knowledge and influence. The need for a pandemic treaty is firmly rooted in the context of global health security that has effectively displaced every other narrative as a result of COVID-19.

Global health security has been defined as “measures that are required to reduce the risk and impact of health events that endanger populations around the world.”

The current situation raises many fundamental questions on whether our global health institutions – a legacy of the “infectious disease diplomacy” from the colonial era, as some have articulated, are actually suited to the current day world.

According to global health legal scholars, public health diplomacy owes its origins to “euro-centric” International Sanitary Conferences in the 19th century. Experts have noted how “the colonial origins of public health diplomacy are traceable to the European-led International Sanitary Conferences, which were catalysed by the outbreaks and cross-border spread of deadly cholera epidemics from the 1830s.” There was a need to “to harmonise inconsistent national quarantine regulations, share epidemiological information, and establish a multilateral health organisation with a mandate on disease surveillance.”

Cut to 2021, emerging policies on vaccine passports, beefing up stricter export restrictions on vaccines by the European Union, follow these pathways from the past. Vaccine nationalism coupled with demands for a pandemic treaty, will exacerbate north-south divides, critics fear.

In this story, we try to explore unfolding discussions towards a pandemic treaty. Apart from some member states, we also spoke with international legal scholars, and experts to understand the treaty making process and the implications of such a treaty for all countries, developing countries in particular. We also mapped a definitive push for an international instrument to deal with future pandemics across different forums.

Image credit: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

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