By Neenah Payne
British MP Andrew Bridgen is trying to warn us about the World Health Organization’s pandemic treaty that will erase all government and sovereignty as we know it. Do any politicians care? This will literally give government power to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other wealthy donors vested in experimental medicine. He calls for a referendum vote on the matter but no one else seems to be alarmed.
By Sridhar Venkatapuram and Rajat Khosla
How well are the needs of non-G7 countries being reflected in the negotiations for a “pandemic treaty”?
“We might be forgiven for not being more aware of the ongoing international negotiations about the so-called “pandemic treaty” given our collective pandemic fatigue, and the sheer number of national, regional, and global initiatives regarding the current COVID-19 pandemic as well as future ones. Despite the richest countries racing to declare the pandemic is over, it is still ongoing and continuing to produce devastating health, social, and economic consequences, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
Nevertheless, there are already global and multilateral initiatives aiming to address future pandemics, including The Pandemic Fund managed by the World Bank, Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005), the 100 Days Mission, the pandemic treaty, and more. It should surprise no one at this point that most of these efforts are located in rich countries and being driven by rich country civil servants, experts, and advocates.
Moreover, given how the pandemic has resurfaced global North-South inequities, it should be worrying that the few but visible voices raising issues of global governance reform, health equity, ethics, and human rights are also largely based in Group of 7 (G7) countries, particularly the United States (US).
Among the diverse and uneven future pandemics efforts underway, the negotiations for a legally-binding instrument to govern all countries reflects both global political theatre as well as the limited mechanisms of the global governance system to motivate, guide, and enforce state actions.
Many of these future pandemic initiatives are inter-related, affirming the notion that global health emergencies require globally-coordinated efforts across numerous domains such as scientific research, financing, manufacturing and trade, international law, human rights/ethics, and so forth. Among the diverse and uneven future pandemics efforts underway, the negotiations for a legally-binding instrument to govern all countries reflects both global political theatre as well as the limited mechanisms of the global governance system to motivate, guide, and enforce state actions.
More fundamentally, it is not clear if the most consequential lessons from the current pandemic have been widely recognised and accepted by global actors and are being reflected in the future pandemics discussions. If we are to believe a treaty would indeed realise global cooperation and compliance, how well are the needs of non-G7 countries, particularly the poorest countries, being reflected?
The pandemic treaty and its origins
According to the Council of Europe materials, an international treaty on pandemics was first proposed by its president Charles Michel at the Paris Peace Forum in November 2020. The idea was acknowledged and backed by the G7 and European Union leaders in early 2021. The locus of action then switched to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which established a Working Group of member states to consider various pandemic-related issues, and then organised a Special Session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in late November 2021.
By the end of the Special Meeting, a consensus was achieved that a new international legal instrument was needed for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response in order that there is a “whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, prioritising the need for equity.” Looking closely at the documents, it seems some member states wanted the instrument to also include other kinds of health emergencies as well as address medium- to long-term consequences.
The WHO set up an Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), which was open to all member states and associate members, to draft and negotiate a “WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response” (pandemic treaty).
As instructed, the WHO set up an Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), which was open to all member states and associate members, to draft and negotiate a “WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response” (pandemic treaty). Throughout 2022, the WHO held various consultations, public hearings, and INB meetings with remarkable transparency by making them all available online.
As instructed by the Special Session, the period of drafting and negotiating the instrument will be rapid, with an expected draft by May 2024 when the WHA meets. That means that 2023 will be the year where idealistic rhetoric and inclusive information-gathering efforts will move into the realm of realpolitik and excruciating negotiations over words. A “Conceptual zero draft” was publicly released in December 2022.
The negotiating process
So, what is the scope and what is at stake in the pandemic treaty? Firstly, a new international instrument was initially supported and pursued by the 2021 WHA because the existing international legal instruments, procedures, and norms were recognised as having been inadequate in helping countries and the global system to respond quickly, effectively, or fairly to the COVID-19 pandemic. The main focus has been on the inadequacies of the International Health Regulations (IHR), which are meant to guide government actions when infectious diseases spread across borders.
The IHR were first adopted in 1969 and focused on only six infectious diseases. They have been revised numerous times to eventually cover almost all trans-border public health risks (biological, chemical, radiological, etc). The last revision was in 2005, and expressly focused on state obligations to notify the WHO about a wide range of events within a specific period of time. What looks confusing and chaotic is that the recent WHA has now created two Working Groups.
One group is to work on revisions to the IHR to reflect urgent issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a second group to draft a pandemic treaty. Both groups are to present their draft documents to the WHA in May 2024.
The IHR were first adopted in 1969 and focused on only six infectious diseases. They have been revised numerous times to eventually cover almost all trans-border public health risks (biological, chemical, radiological, etc). Clearly, there is great overlap in subjects of the two groups, and many countries just do not have the diplomatic resources to manage multiple processes. Some commentators have noted that the IHR are technical and operational in nature while the pandemic treaty is different as it is much more “political,” addressing issues such as international assistance, access to technologies, and global equity.
Another way to understand this duplication is that, now that the WHA and global health have become politically charged, and national leaders now recognise that health determinants and economic security are inter-linked, having two opportunities to press your country’s interests is better than just one. However, the US seems to have contained the scope of IHR revisions by fostering an agreement at the WHA 2022 that the IHR working group should pursue only a targeted set of technical amendments. The WHA meeting in May 2023 will be an important moment to see if that containment manoeuvre will survive.
Putting aside the IHR, the scope of the draft pandemic treaty stretches from addressing the inadequacies of the IHR and the current global governance system to an aspiration for a whole-of-government and whole-society approach centred on equity. As is typical of UN documents and instruments, the draft recognises numerous and often conflicting ethical principles and other concepts such as state sovereignty, global cooperation, equal value of every life, the human right to health of every human being, interdependent vulnerabilities across borders, evidence-based decisions, one health, etc.
The substantive core of the instrument is about sharing of pathogens and related benefits; global supply chains and logistics of pandemic response products; strengthening health systems; the role of the WHO; public health systems and literacy; sustainable financing of relevant resources; and, most importantly, levels of accountability for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and responses; and recovery of health systems and societies more broadly.
The most important invisible issues are global equity and human rights; most of the human beings negatively affected by pandemics live in low- and middle-income countries.
During 2023, the draft treaty will evolve, particularly at the WHA meeting in May, the many meetings of the INB and sub-INB drafting group, and due to other interventions by non-government actors and networks. What is notable is that while the conceptual draft has identified an expansive set of principles, concepts, and topics, it is far away from any substantive articulation of specific rights and duties of states, how these may differ according to the capacities of different states.
More fundamental questions are left ignored such as what qualifies as a pandemic, and when does it start or end? Or who should have the authority to declare the start and end of a pandemic? Perhaps, the most important invisible issues are global equity and human rights; most of the human beings negatively affected by pandemics live in low- and middle-income countries. Whether representatives of such countries are motivated and capable of reflecting their people’s needs and interests in the treaty is unclear. The meagre space given to civil society to constructively engage in these negotiation processes makes it even harder for such concerns to be addressed.
However, at the WHA 2022, some of these countries showed that they can paralyse the assembly when they really disagree. Perhaps, this new-found confidence of some non-G7 countries in the WHA will spread to others and carry through into the 2023 pandemic treaty negotiations.”
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Despite the seemingly positive intentions behind the WHO’s agenda, there are sinister forces at play threatening to take away national sovereignty, to remove free speech and to move toward an ever more centralized, globalized, authoritarian, undemocratic and top-down system of control over humans and their health.
The mechanisms being used for this deeply disturbing shift toward, globalized “one health” are two-fold.
One relates to changes proposed to the existing International Health Regulations of 2005 (IHR) via amendments that are currently being negotiated. This is, in effect, the only internationally applicable regulatory system in force that aims to regulate coordinated responses to health threats.
The second mechanism involves the introduction of a new “treaty,” namely the “WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention preparedness and response.”
With a name like that, its short form, the “Pandemic Treaty,” has been widely adopted for ease of reference. Although two separate documents, the amendments and the Pandemic Treaty work in tandem. One, the former, states the “what,” while the latter, the “how.” The amendments dramatically extend powers to the WHO, redefine important concepts and broaden the context, while the Pandemic Treaty is concerned with the financing and governance required to support these amendments….
Article 12 gives the director-general of the WHO, presently Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, full power in declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), but also a PHERC, a public health emergency of “regional concern.” Most disconcerting is the addition of the word “potential” public health emergency, meaning there is no need for an actual health emergency. Anything could be justified as a “potential” PHERC or PHEIC, why not even a “climate emergency,” for example?
The article adds:
More simply put, the amendments to the IHR would give Ghebreyesus, the current director-general, supreme power over decisions within the IHR that would affect all 190+ WHO “member states,” regardless of any dissenting opinions or disagreements among members. This decision to offer a single individual such powers needs to be very carefully considered in light of the lack of the WHO’s transparency and accountability.
What about the individual in question? Let’s think of current WHO Director-General Ghebreyesus. He has an alleged track record for genocide against various tribes in the Tigray region of his home country of Ethiopia, a matter that was brought to the International Criminal Court by U.S. economist and past advisor to the Ethiopian government, David Steinman, in 2020.
For those who might have felt that the WHO’s declaration of the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency earlier this month was the beginning of a transition back to pre-pandemic norms, it’s time to think again. Now is the time that the WHO and the globalists are setting out their stall for the next phase of their agenda.
OPINION: The WHO’s draft treaty being debated in Geneva does not tackle the power imbalance in global health
The World Health Organization (WHO) has started debating a draft “pandemic treaty” to address the failures of the Covid-19 response and prevent another global crisis. The ongoing negotiations, which have been taking place in Geneva (which the pharma lobby describes as “the global health capital of the world”) are essentially a proxy war between corporate interests aiming to entrench intellectual property protections for profit and the WHO and its Global South allies seeking greater accountability and transparency from wealthy governments that enable pharma profiteering.
Though it acknowledges the “catastrophic failure” of the pandemic response and recognises the “threats” of intellectual property restrictions, the treaty falls far short of what is needed. Following the failures of both national and international responses – ranging from vaccine hoarding by wealthy countries to profit-driven vaccine distribution decisions by pharmaceutical companies – it’s clear the power imbalance within the global health world needs to be seriously confronted.
While the WHO technically leads the global health architecture, the real power is held by governments, pharmaceutical companies, and philanthropic foundations from the Global North. This power was on full display during the Covid-19 pandemic when the pharmaceutical industry, (namely Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson), as well as philanthro-capitalists (led by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation) solidified their outsized influence and control of the already dysfunctional global health architecture.
For people in the Global South, this lack of representation was nothing new. These communities have been forced to endure and repeatedly challenge the global health architecture’s colonial, white supremacist, patriarchal, and market-driven responses to Aids, Ebola, and Mpox and now Covid-19. Rather than address these failures head on, the recent round of negotiations have seen Global North governments advocating positions that will facilitate further Big Pharma profiteering.
In the US for instance, senator Ron Johnson, introduced a Senate bill in anticipation of the draft pandemic treaty, asserting that “a significant segment of the American public is deeply sceptical of the World Health Organization, its leadership, and its independence”.
The attacks on the WHO were also echoed by House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Michael McCaul who, supported by House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Cathy Rodgers argued: “As the WHO begins the process to move this pandemic treaty forward, America’s sovereign rights and biomedical leadership and innovation must be protected.”
These Republican calls to “protect” innovation are reiterated in the pharma coalition’s recommendations for “robust intellectual property protection” in the pandemic treaty, perpetuating the dubious assertion that innovation is dependent on intellectual property rights.
Their unsubstantiated claims place corporate interests and profit over peoples’ lives by deliberately obstructing efforts to share biomedical knowledge such as vaccine recipes during global health emergencies. (Some lawmakers on the other side of the aisle, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are challenging the “corporate greed” of the pharmaceutical industry and advocating for reforms to lower drug prices.)
Decolonising global health
In anticipating the next pandemic, we have to reimagine the global health architecture outside of its Genevan centre.
A comprehensive pandemic treaty should offer concrete measures that chip away at the capitalist and colonial power at the centre of global health. It should include legal obligations on governments or pharma companies (as suggested by the Third World Network) to prevent corporate profiteering and vaccine apartheid, and redirect resources to protecting the right to health and saving lives.
This process requires redrafting geographies of power that shape global health outcomes, including supporting efforts to shift vaccine research, manufacturing, and distribution to the Global South. Such initiatives include the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM), which aims to increase African vaccine manufacturing capacity from less than 1% of the continent’s total doses currently to 60% by 2040. Led by the Africa Centers for Disease Control, the PAVM would reduce Africa’s dependency on Euro-American charity, moving the continent toward greater self-reliance.
In addition, we should think creatively about reconstituting the global health architecture by limiting the profit-driven pharma sector’s influence on access to medicines through the development of a public option that supports democratically controlled pharmaceutical development, production and distribution.
For instance, the creation of the Moderna vaccine was publicly funded through taxpayer money. It is therefore conceivable that governments could extend their existing financial support for vaccine research and development, to manufacturing and distribution. This would result in a publicly controlled pharmaceutical ecosystem centred on equitable access, rather than a profit-driven system led by corporate greed and narrow shareholder interests.
A new global health order is possible, but it requires solidarity and imagination, more than myopic greed and intellectual property.
No WHO Pandemic Preparedness Treaty Without Senate Approval Act
Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson introduced legislation Thursday that would push back against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) overreach and ensure the Senate has power over its pandemic treaty.
The Daily Caller first obtained the legislation, titled the No WHO Pandemic Preparedness Treaty Without Senate Approval Act, which was spearheaded by Johnson and has 15 cosponsors. The bill mentions the WHO creating an intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) and, if passed, would require any agreement produced by the INB to be submitted to the Senate as a treaty in an effort to provide more transparency on the administration.
The lawmakers believe they need to start fighting to prevent the WHO from creating an INB.
“The World Health Organization, along with our federal health agencies, failed miserably in its response to COVID-19. Its failure should not be rewarded with a new international treaty that would increase its power at the expense of American sovereignty. What the WHO does need is greater accountability and transparency,” Johnson told the Daily Caller prior to officially introducing the legislation.
“This bill makes clear to the Biden administration that any new WHO pandemic agreement must be deemed a treaty and submitted to the Senate for ratification. The sovereignty of the United States is not negotiable,” Johnson continued.
A group of over 50 House Republicans sent a letter Thursday night to Biden calling on his administration to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) and requesting documents and communications between the Biden administration and the agency.
The bill was cosponsored by Republican Sens. John Barrasso, Mike Braun, Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Steve Daines, Chuck Grassley, Bill Hagerty, John Hoeven, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mike Lee, Roger Marshall, Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, Thom Tillis, and Tommy Tuberville.
Neenah Payne writes for Activist Post
Top image: WION/YouTube
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