April 1, 2023

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Epidemics: Towards a New Legal WHO International Agreement

The World Health Organization (WHO) has agreed that countries negotiating a new international epidemic management agreement in Geneva will become legally binding.

A press release from the organization said, “The second meeting of the intergovernmental negotiating body responsible for drafting and negotiating a WHO convention, treaty or other international instrument on prevention, preparedness and response to epidemics concludes with an agreement that the new instrument should be legally binding”.

The Organization for Intergovernmental Negotiations (OIN), which is responsible for negotiating the treaty, discussed the move during its second meeting in Geneva.

According to the UN World Health Organization “Like all international instruments, if ratified by member states, any new treaty is drawn up and negotiated by governments that will put in place all measures respecting their sovereignty.”

Members of OIN “We have unanimously decided that they will work on a new international pandemic agreement that will be legally binding,” WHO added that the body hopes to finalize the agreement by May 2024.

Tedros is a “Historic Breakthrough”

More broadly, OIN experts recognized the importance of the work on revising the International Health Regulations (2005) and the need for consistency and complementarity between the two programmes. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed it “Historic progress to protect families and communities around the world from the threat of future pandemics”.

« The importance of a legally binding instrument cannot be overstated: it will be part of our collective heritage for future generations. said Dr Tedros.

“Today’s decision is an important first step in the important work we are doing together. But we still have many mountains to climb. It’s a process where we have to support each other.”OIN added South African co-chair Precious Matsoso.

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Last December, following the human catastrophe and socio-economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, WHO’s 194 member countries began the process of developing and negotiating a new international instrument.

According to the WHO, OIN’s work aims to prevent, better respond to, and promote the principles of equity, solidarity and health for all.

The next meeting of OIN members will be held next December and they will report to the 76th World Health Assembly in 2023.

And Matsoso concludes: “As Co-Chairs of the Inter-Governmental Organization, we are grateful to the Member States and committed Bureau Members for our joint work.”