Last updated March 28, 2023
Written by: Nico D’Auterive, Senior Global Health Communications & Advocacy Officer, United Nations Foundation
Over the last year, mis- and disinformation about the current process by World Health Organization (WHO) Member States to draft and negotiate an international agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPR) has been circulating online and in some media coverage. False claims include that an imminent treaty will strip countries of their sovereign rights and hand over control of public health measures to WHO, which in turn would establish vaccine passports, regulate travel, and enforce lockdowns.
Such mis- and disinformation (like other false rumors that have proliferated during the pandemic) has a corrosive effect on public health and threatens to derail international collaboration and negotiation, which are necessary to ensure the world is better prepared for future health threats. In response to these claims, numerous factchecks have been published, including those by the Associated Press, AFP, USA Today, Politifact and Factcheck.org, and WHO has developed a Questions and Answers page to clear up some misconceptions.
In reality, the process to develop a pandemic instrument or accord is underway, but the final text is far from being confirmed. A “zero draft” of the accord was presented in February 2023. Member States will work intensively over many months to adjust the text before the target adoption date of May 2024. Simultaneous to the pandemic accord process, a Member State-led Working Group is deliberating on potential amendments to the existing the International Health Regulations (IHR) over the next two years. This process is complementary to, but separate from, the pandemic accord negotiation.
Any future intergovernmental agreements adopted through either of these negotiations will acknowledge and require compliance with domestic laws. The power invested in the IHR and any forthcoming pandemic accord is limited by the fact that WHO Member States are still sovereign countries and participation in these instruments is voluntary. To this point, the preamble of the Zero Draft of the pandemic accord actually begins by “reaffirming the principle of sovereignty of States Parties in addressing public health matters, notably pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and health systems recovery.”
Some opponents of the pandemic accord have gone so far as to claim that WHO is seeking ‘police power’ to enforce the terms of the agreement. This is false, as any notion of a WHO-led force to ensure compliance would fall outside of the scope of the Organization’s mandate and constitution.
Antagonists also claim that the pandemic accord process has been conducted in secret without opportunities for public input. In actuality, the WHO Secretariat, at the request of the INB, has engaged in extensive outreach efforts to promote and facilitate broad public participation in public hearings on the new pandemic instrument. To date, thousands of non-governmental stakeholders and individuals have provided input through diverse platforms, including online surveys, email submissions, and oral input during INB meetings.
Two multi-day public hearings were held in 2022. To solicit inputs from the public for each of these sessions, WHO conducted outreach via email lists and social media and during the Director-General’s press engagements. The first round of public hearings were fully webcast and featured 123 speakers. Over 36,000 written submissions were also provided by the public at that time.
Lastly, the most detrimental myth is that the world does not need an international agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. Multiple international expert review panels have agreed that the international architecture for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response needs to be strengthened to reduce the likelihood and impact of future pandemic threats. And all WHO Member States agreed unanimously in December 2021 that pursuit of a potential pandemic accord is in the world’s interest. This is a critical opportunity to learn from our collective experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and put in place regulations and processes to facilitate a more equitable and effective response in the case of another global public health emergency.
To learn more about the INB process, read The Pandemic Accord: Actualizing Ambition in 2023.
Nico D’Auterive is a Senior Global Health Communications & Advocacy Officer at the UN Foundation. Prior to joining UN Foundation, Nico oversaw global, national, and local communications campaigns in the US and abroad with various NGOs, including Doctor’s Without Borders (MSF) and FXB International. She has worked in Haiti, Ukraine, Nigeria, and Colombia. Nico holds a master’s in international development and global health from the Paris Institute of Political Studies (SciencesPo) and an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from Columbia University.
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