Tuesday

13th Apr 2021

World leaders urge readiness for next pandemic: 'Time to act'

  • 'No country, no continent can defeat a pandemic alone. It requires a global approach,' Michel told a news conference on Tuesday (Photo: European Union)

The leaders of 25 countries worldwide have signed an open letter with the European Council president Charles Michel and World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, calling for an international treaty on pandemics.

"The next pandemic is not a question of 'if', but 'when'," Michel told a news conference on Tuesday (30 March).

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"No country, no continent can defeat a pandemic alone. It requires a global approach," he added.

The idea of such a treaty was first mooted by Michel at the Paris Peace Forum in November last year.

It was highlighted again in a statement by the G7 leaders, as well as in the conclusions of the videoconference of member states in February.

Such a treaty would provide a framework for global cooperation in pandemic preparedness, strengthening alert systems and data-sharing, channelling resources for research and innovative treatments, and ensuring equitable access to vaccines, medicines, and tests, they said.

"The time to act is now... We must not allow the memories of this crisis to fade and go back to business as usual," Tedros said.

The letter was also signed by some EU leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian prime minister Mario Draghi and Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and also by the presidents of South Africa, Rwanda, Chile, Kenya, Serbia and Indonesia, among others.

British prime minister Boris Johnson is also among the signatories, despite the recent dispute with the EU over the production and distribution of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca.

No von der Leyen signature

The US, China, and the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen are notably absent.

According to EU officials, the commission chief was aware of the joint open letter, but she decided not to sign the document.

A commission spokesperson refused to explain von der Leyen's choice, pointing out the full convergence between Michel and the commission chief on the document contents.

Yet, global preparedness for pandemics will be a cornerstone in the upcoming G20 Global Health Summit, co-hosted by the commission and the Italian government in Rome on 21 May.

Despite the signatories' call for "collective solidarity," the world's richest countries have monopolised current and projected production doses of vaccines - ignoring the WHO's appeal for patents of vaccines to be waived during the pandemic.

"Immunisation is a global public good. So we need to be able to develop, manufacture and deploy vaccines as quickly as possible," said Michel.

However, most doses administered so far (about 80 percent) have been in just 10 countries.

The bloc of 27 EU countries, the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and Japan have secured over one billion more doses than they would need to vaccinate all their citizens.

In total, there are an estimated 60 million healthcare workers across the world.

Last week, the WHO urged rich countries to share 10 million vaccines with their COVAX initiative to deliver jabs to 20 poorer nations, which have not received a single dose so far.

But, until now, no country has publicly offered to share its vaccines, AFP reported.

May meeting

A resolution on the proposed treaty is expected at WHO's annual ministerial assembly in May, but the 194 participating countries in WHO will determine the specific content and whether it will be ratified, Tedros said.

The treaty would be rooted in the constitution of the World Health Organization's support of the principle of health for all, building on existing global health cooperation tools like the International Health Regulations (IHR) - the legal framework to handle cross-borders public health events and emergencies.

China came under fire for its initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak, despite being initially praised by the WHO for its quick response.

In June, an investigation published by Associated Press revealed that China delayed releasing coronavirus information during the early days of the outbreak, frustrating efforts within the WHO.

Meanwhile, the joint WHO-China report aimed at better understanding the circumstances that allowed this pandemic to develop calls for further research, the UN health institution said on Tuesday.

"As far as WHO is concerned, all hypothesis remain on the table," Tedros said.

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