WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus
WHO Director-General Tedros GhebreyesusFile photo

WHO chief urges all countries to support a pandemic preparedness treaty

Geneva, June 1, 2021

Stating that it would be a "monumental error" to think that the danger of COVID-19 has passed, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday urged all countries to support a pandemic preparedness treaty.

"This is an idea whose time has come," Ghebreyesus said in his closing remarks at the World Health Assembly, which had as its theme, "Ending this pandemic, preventing the next one".

"The reality is, we still have a lot of work to do to end this pandemic. We’re very encouraged that cases and deaths are continuing to decline globally, but it would be a monumental error for any country to think the danger has passed," he said.

"The tailored and consistent use of public health measures, in combination with equitable vaccination, remains the way out.

"I urge all Member States to commit to supporting the targets I set out on Monday, to achieve vaccination of at least 10% of the population of all countries by the end of September, and at least 30% by the end of the year.

"One day – hopefully soon – the pandemic will be behind us, but the psychological scars will remain for those who have lost loved ones, health workers who have been stretched beyond breaking point, and the millions of people of all ages confronted with months of loneliness and isolation," he said.

Ghebreyesus said the world would still face the same vulnerabilities that allowed a small outbreak to become a global pandemic.

"The questions the pandemic is asking us cannot simply be answered with new institutions, mechanisms, facilities or processes. The challenges we face are profound, and so must be the solutions we design.

"Strengthening WHO certainly means strengthening the Secretariat, but it also means strengthening the bond between Member States, which is very crucial," he said.

"That’s why the one recommendation that I believe will do most to strengthen both WHO and global health security is the recommendation for a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response; that could also improve, as I said earlier, the relationship between Member States, and fosters cooperation," he said.

Ghebreyesus said the world needed a generational commitment that outlived budgetary cycles, election cycles and media cycles and created an overarching framework for connecting the political, financial and technical mechanisms needed for strengthening global health security.

"At present, pathogens have greater power than WHO. They are emerging more frequently in a planet out of balance. They exploit our interconnectedness and expose our inequities and divisions. The safety of the world’s people cannot rely solely on the goodwill of governments.

"Every government is responsible for, and accountable to, its own people. But Member States can only truly keep their own people safe if they are accountable to each other at the global level," he said.

The WHO Director-General said the defining characteristic of the pandemic is the lack of sharing: of data, information, pathogens, technologies and resources.

"These are the challenges we’re facing, we’ve been facing since the pandemic started, and even before.

"A treaty would foster improved sharing, trust and accountability, and provide the solid foundation on which to build other mechanisms for global health security: For peer review of national capacities; For research and innovation; For early warning; For stockpiling and production of pandemic supplies; For equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments; For an emergency workforce; And much more.

"A treaty is a promise to future generations; to sustained political and financial commitment.

"Crucially, an international agreement of any kind must be designed and owned by all Member States – all. It must be truly representative and inclusive. It must be thorough and carefully considered, but it must also be urgent. We don’t have time. There is no reason we can’t do both.

"We must seize the moment. In the coming months and years, other crises will demand our attention, and distract us from the urgency of taking action now. If we make that mistake, we risk perpetuating the same cycle of panic and neglect that has led us to the point," he said.

"e appreciate the strong support expressed by dozens of Member States for the idea of a global agreement on pandemic preparedness, under article 19 of the WHO constitution. More than 60 countries have sponsored it, as the Ambassador of Chile said earlier.

"We look forward to discussing this idea further with Member States at a Special Session of the World Health Assembly in November," he said.

Ghebreyeus also spoke about the need for more sustainable financing for WHO.

"The pandemic has taught us many lessons. Among the most important is that when health is at risk, everything is at risk. But when health is protected and promoted, individuals, families, communities, nations and economies thrive.

"We call on all Member States to enshrine the right to health in their constitutions, as indeed many have already done. But the right to health cannot – must not – become an empty slogan. It must become the experience of every person in every nation," he added.


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