EU-led plans for pushing through with the setting up of an inter-governmental body to undertake negotiations for a pandemic treaty have been soured by unwillingness on the part of a few member states of WHO including US, Mexico, Brazil and Russia, among others, according to diplomatic sources in Geneva.
As this story went to print, countries were locked in consultations on a decision text which if approved by the World Health Assembly would kick start the process for negotiations towards a treaty. It is not clear whether countries were likely to reach a consensus on these discussions before the start of the Assembly next week on May 24th.
For this story we spoke to a number of different delegates across countries and to legal experts. What emerges is a picture that portrays many developed countries that have overcome the pandemic, and others still grappling with rising cases of COVID-19. While these countries may be united in their objectives to work on ways to prevent another pandemic, their approaches, capacities, their political and economic motivations vary by a large degree.
What also emerges is how, no matter the circumstances, or the diversity in the motivations that may be driving the lack of consensus on the treaty, multilateralism has muscled its way back in – at WHO. At least it appears so.
“The fact that the treaty idea is being discussed intensely after the late submission of a decision text, in the middle of a pandemic, shows the importance of transparency and effective participation as fundamental for effective multilateral engagement,” an expert from the global south told Geneva Health Files.
We have reported earlier on the issues of motivations, representation and commercial factors driving these discussions. There are concerns that a pandemic treaty could elevate emergency preparedness priorities of the WHO, over its mandate of Health Systems Strengthening. In addition, the pandemic treaty could potentially act as a lever to determine financing of WHO and as a result, its governance.
As member states head into the Assembly next week, it remains to be seen when and in what form will discussions towards a pandemic treaty will continue. This Assembly will indeed be one of the most defining governing bodies meeting at WHO.
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