World Health Organization

On the afternoon of June 1, activists are set to rally at Place des Nations before marching through Geneva. The demonstration is set on the last day of the 77th World Health Assembly with the aim to denounce the World Health Organization (WHO).  Social media is abuzz with claims that the march is connected to the WHO’s Pandemic Treaty[PDF].

The treaty has sparked controversy, with rumors circulating that it would cede national sovereignty to the WHO, granting it the power to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates on countries. However, these claims are unsubstantiated. A WHO spokesperson clarified to The Guardian, “This agreement will not, and cannot, grant sovereignty to WHO.” WHO further accused UK politician Nigel Farage of spreading misinformation about pandemic treaty, launching a campaign which claimed that the treaty intended to improve global cooperation against outbreaks will cede UK sovereignty

This draft treaty is currently under negotiation, with a majority of United Nations member states indicating they would not sign it in its current form.

One of the main contentious issues between member states is the sharing of pandemic-related health products through donations and affordable pricing for developing states, alongside the sharing of pathogen data under the Pathogen Access and Benefit Sharing System, detailed in Article 12 of the April 2024 negotiating text[PDF]. Neither the proposed treaty, nor the amendments [PDF] to the International Health Regulations [PDF] propose to cede powers of this kind or sovereignty to the WHO. The UK Minister for Health and Secondary Care shot down the narrative in their parliament saying, “…under no circumstances will we allow the WHO to have the power to mandate lockdowns. That would be unthinkable and has never been proposed.”

What is the Pandemic Treaty?

The idea for the Pandemic Treaty was birthed in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2021, when 25 world leaders, including five African Presidents from Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, and Senegal, initiated a new treaty on pandemic preparedness and response. This initiative, brought to the WHO, has been under negotiation by an Intergovernmental Negotiation Body.

As of May 29, 2024, negotiations had not concluded before the 2024 World Health Assembly. The WHO indicated that states agreed to continue discussions, aiming to finalize the pandemic agreement. The 77th World Health Assembly, running from May 26 to June 1, 2024, provided a platform for these ongoing negotiations and review of the proposed amendments and technical recommendations[PDF]

Objectives and Proposals of the Treaty

The main goal of the proposed treaty is to foster a comprehensive approach to pandemic preparedness and response. It aims to strengthen national, regional, and global capacities and resilience to future pandemics. Key components include enhancing international cooperation to improve alert systems, data sharing, research, and the production and distribution of medical and public health countermeasures such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics, and personal protective equipment.

The treaty builds on existing provisions under the International Health Regulations, which would underpin its framework. In October 2021, the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness for and Response to Health Emergencies (WGPR) published a ‘zero draft’ report[PDF] assessing the benefits of a new WHO convention on pandemic preparedness and response.

Key Provisions and Contentious Issues

The Zero Draft of the treaty, published on February 1, 2023, was discussed at the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body’s fourth meeting between February 27 and March 3, 2023. The latest public version of the negotiating text was released on April 22, 2024. As negotiations progress, several key issues are under discussion:

– Definition, means, and procedures for declaring a pandemic.
– Integration with the International Health Regulations.
– Guiding principles such as human rights, sovereignty, equity, solidarity, transparency, and accountability.
– Achieving equity in the global supply chain for pandemic-related products.
– Strengthening the resilience and responsiveness of health systems.
– Coordination and cooperation between states and the WHO in pandemic preparedness and response.
– Financing pandemic preparedness and response initiatives.
– Establishing a new Governing Body for the treaty, known as the Conference of the Parties (COP).
– Legal issues including amendments, withdrawal, and dispute settlement.

As negotiations continue, the proposed Pandemic Treaty remains a complex and evolving agreement aimed at enhancing global pandemic preparedness and response. While false claims about the treaty’s implications have caused public concern, the actual provisions focus on cooperation, equity, and resilience. The outcome of these negotiations have the potential to shape future international health policies and the global response to pandemics.

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