Negotiations continue on divisive WHO pandemic treaty

Global talks aimed at concluding a treaty to fight future pandemics are expected to exceed the original deadline, with sources close to the process indicating that negotiators representing the 194 member states of the World Health Organisation (WHO) still have unresolved issues that are likely to prolong discussions, possibly delaying the adoption of a legally binding text before this month’s World Health Assembly, on Friday, the 10th of May, reports Reuters.
The document aims to strengthen the world’s defences against emerging pathogens after the Covid-19 pandemic claimed millions of lives, alongside a series of updates to existing rules on dealing with pandemics.
However, there have been serious disagreements during the negotiation process, in particular on the fairness of the distribution of vaccines, medicine, and in some countries the treaty has also become politicised.
Some of the most controversial elements of the treaty, including details of a “pathogen access and benefits system”, have already been postponed to a later negotiation, which has a two-year deadline.

The system aims to systematise the process of sharing materials which have the potential to cause pandemics,

such as new viruses or strains, and to ensure that all countries benefit fairly from the vaccines, drugs and tests that are developed as a result.
The current draft treaty includes a provision requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to reserve 10% of such products for WHO, and 10% that the agency can buy at affordable prices for distribution in poorer countries during health emergencies.
While most countries support fair access to vaccines, there is not yet a fixed percentage for donation or affordable purchase.
For example, a report in the Telegraph this week said that the UK is unwilling to sign a treaty which the country believes would require it to donate a fifth of its vaccines.
The current pandemic influenza contract requires between 5% and 20% of vaccines to be sold at affordable prices or donated to the WHO.

This system would apply if the H5N1 avian flu strain that caused alarm after it was found in cows in the US,

as well as in other animals and birds, became easily transmissible between humans, although the current WHO threat assessment remains low because there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
Delays in finalising the pandemic agreement risk losing political momentum, especially in an election year for many countries with Alexandra Phelan, a health law expert of Johns Hopkins University, saying that it is not over yet, but the time is running out.
Also read: AstraZeneca withdraws Covid-19 vaccine worldwide, citing a surplus of newer vaccines
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