At the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 78th session in September 2023 a “landmark declaration” was adopted on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. This was the General Assembly’s first ever high-level meeting on the subject, which WHO welcomed. Describing the “historic commitment”, WHO recognised the need for “international cooperation, coordination, governance, and investment” to prevent a repeat of the COVID-19 experience. This declaration will also support efforts to “get back on track” with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Making the world safer”
The Assembly convened under the theme “Making the world safer: Creating and maintaining political momentum and solidarity for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, and Response”. The meeting began with comments from Assembly President Dennis Francis, who reflected on the COVID-19 pandemic as “one of the most pressing global challenges of our time”.
“The reality is that we simply lacked preparation and responsiveness.”
Further to the collective lack of preparation, Mr Francis noted the global inequalities that were highlighted. This concern was echoed by Member States in the Political Declaration, where “glaring inequalities” in access to vaccines were recorded.
The Political Declaration outlines a range of recommendations including:
- Conclude negotiations on a WHO convention, agreement, or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response (aka the Pandemic Accord).
- In line with the Pandemic Accord process, ensure the sustainable, affordable, fair, equitable, effective, efficient, and timely access to medical countermeasures.
- Take measures to counter and address the health-related misinformation, disinformation, hate speech, and stigmatisation.
- Invest in primary health care and other health system measures.
UN Under-Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed emphasised the need to follow these recommendations to prevent a repeat of vaccine hoarding by richer countries. The document also called for the promotion of equitable distribution of affordable and quality medicines, and the reaffirmation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This agreement “plays a critical role” in encouraging trade in “knowledge and creativity”, resolving intellectual property trade disputes, and “assuring WTO members the latitude to achieve their domestic objectives”.
Ms Mohammed also demanded reform of the international financial architecture to reduce the debt burden of developing countries. She requested long-term financing of more than $500 billion each year within the SDGs recovery plan. Another area of attention for Ms Mohammed was the need to fight misinformation about vaccines. She gave the example of a code of conduct on digital platforms and proposed the creation of an emergency coordination platform to respond to complex international shocks.
WHO Director-General’s view
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented that the adoption of this Political Declaration is “a historic milestone”. He urged the Member States to implement the commitments outlined in the document. Furthermore, he called for an agreement by May 2024 for the drafting of the WHO international instrument on prevention, preparedness, and response.
“The lived experience of people who suffered through the COVID-19 pandemic must be at the forefront of our minds going forward in order to realise the clear direction provided by world leaders. We must learn how to protect our communities better and to engage, inform, and empower them to be part of the solution.”
He remarked upon the need for “concrete actions” to promote equitable access to medical countermeasures, appropriate financing, “empowered and engaged communities”, and “robust, trained, and equipped health workers”.
“The world needs a more collaborative, cohesive, and equitable approach to preventing, preparing for, and responding to pandemics.”
Spend to save
World Bank Senior Managing Director Axel Van Trotsenburg welcomed the first annniversary of the pandemic fund, which secured pledges from 133 countries of $2 billion. This is a “very good starting point”, but Mr Trotsenburg called for $10 billion. The High-Level Champion for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, and Response, Helen Clark, called for a global financing system capable of immediately responding to pandemics.
“Spending billions will save trillions.”
She suggested that vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments should be considered “global common goods”.
“Viruses that can cause pandemics will not wait for diplomacy to produce results.”
During the meeting it was proposed that a dedicated global coordination body should be created. Ms Clarck emphasised that the “political choice” of Member States will determine if COVID-19 is the “last pandemic to cause such devastation”.
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