The World Health Organization (WHO) is moving ahead with plans to enact a new or revised international pandemic preparedness treaty, despite encountering setbacks earlier this summer after dozens of countries, primarily outside the Western world, objected to the plan.
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A majority of WHO member states on July 21, during a meeting of WHO’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), agreed to pursue a legally binding pandemic instrument that will contain “both legally binding as well as non-legally binding elements.”
STAT News described the agreement, which would create a new global framework for responding to pandemics, as “the most transformative global health call to action since [the] WHO itself was formed as the first specialized United Nations agency in 1948.”
Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum, African Union and World Bank — which created a $1 billion fund for “disease surveillance” and “support against the current as well as future pandemics” — are developing their own pandemic response mechanisms, including new cross-country vaccine passport frameworks.
WHO’s ‘pandemic treaty’: what’s been proposed and what would it mean?
Ongoing talks to formulate a new or revised “pandemic treaty” are building on the existing international framework for global pandemic response, the WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR), considered a binding instrument of international law.
On Dec. 1, 2021, in response to calls from various governments for a “strengthened global pandemic strategy” and signaling the urgency with which these entities are acting, the WHO formally launched the process of creating a new treaty or amending the IHR, during Special Session — only the second in the organization’s history
The member countries agreed to:
“Kickstart a global process to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement or other international instrument under the Constitution of the World Health Organization to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”
The IHR legal framework is one of only two binding treaties the WHO has achieved since its inception, the other being the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The IHR framework already allows the WHO director-general to declare a public health emergency in any country, without the consent of that country’s government, though the framework requires the two sides to first attempt to reach an agreement.
The proposals for a new or revised pandemic treaty, put forth at the special ministerial session of the WHO in May, would “somewhat” strengthen the WHO’s pandemic-related powers, including establishing a “Compliance Committee” that would issue advisory recommendations for states.
However, according to the Daily Sceptic, while the IHR is already legally binding, the amendments proposed in May would not strengthen existing legal obligations or requirements:
“The existing treaty regulations, like all (or most) international law, do not actually compel states to do anything other than talk to the WHO and listen to it, and neither do they specify sanctions for non-compliance; almost all their output is advice.
“The proposed amendments don’t alter that. They don’t allow the WHO unilaterally to impose legally binding measures on or within countries.”
The Daily Sceptic noted one of the risks stemming from the negotiations for a new or updated treaty include the potential codification of “the new lockdown orthodoxy for future pandemics,” which would “replace the sound, science-based, pre-COVID recommendations” previously in place.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, such a treaty would grant the WHO “absolute power over global biosecurity, such as the power to implement digital identities/vaccine passports, mandatory vaccinations, travel restrictions, standardized medical care and more.”
Mercola also questioned a “one-size-fits-all approach to pandemic response,” pointing out that “pandemic threats are not identical in all parts of the world. In his view, he said, “the WHO is not qualified to make global health decisions.”
Similar concerns contributed at least in part to opposition against the proposals presented at the special ministerial session, during which a bloc of mostly non-Western countries, including China, India, Russia and 47 African nations, prevented an agreement from being finalized.
Will opposition fade away?
Although no final agreement was achieved at the May meeting, consensus was reached to organize a new special ministerial session of the WHO later this year, possibly after the WHO’s World Health Assembly, scheduled for Nov. 29 through Dec. 1, Reuters reported.
Mxolisi Nkosi, South Africa’s ambassador to the UN, told the WHO’s annual ministerial assembly the new special session would “consider the benefits for such a convention, agreement or other international instrument.”
“Probably the most important lesson COVID-19 has taught us is the need for stronger and more agile collective defences against health threats as well as for building resilience to address future potential pandemics.
“A new pandemic treaty is central to this.”
At the time, the U.K.’s ambassador to the UN, Simon Manley, addressing the lack of an immediate agreement and the consensus to hold a new meeting, tweeted “negotiations may take time, but this is a historic step towards global health security.”