WHO member states have agreed to explore further the need for new rules, even as they would consider strengthening existing rules. The Working Group on strengthening WHO preparedness and response to health emergencies met this week to agree on a draft report that will be submitted to the Special Session of the World Health Assembly later this month.
These discussions are one of the most contentious policy choices for countries battling the pandemic, and under pressure to be seen as responding to a political process. After four days of intense discussions where countries negotiated to draft text for this report, it appears a consensus has been reached not only on recounting the working group processes over the last few months, but also on a potential way forward to agree on new rules to govern future health emergencies.
This report is now under silence procedure for 72 hours that ends on 7th November. In the absence of written objection from any country, the report will be adopted at a procedural meeting of the working group. It is expected that such a meeting will be convened within 10 days. (A copy of this report that was finalised on the evening of 4th November, has been seen by Geneva Health Files.)
For this story we spoke to numerous diplomats who were part of the discussions and who shared their concerns and perspectives on these discussions. For reasons of sensitivity, they choose to be anonymous.
It appears that there has been a shift in the way countries approach the treaty question. A few key developments indicate, for now, the EU may have succeeded in getting many countries on board for its proposal for a new pandemic treaty. However, it is too early to say whether countries will eventually prefer a treaty as an instrument to draft new rules to govern emergencies. According to sources, many African countries are beginning to consider the treaty as a more definitive approach to include equity provisions, than amending the International Health Regulations.
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