WHO and Member States Reform Law for International Response to Health Emergencies

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Member States have convened an effort to reform the current regulations on international cooperation during public health events and emergencies and to outline a new international agreement  to support better pandemic response. 

As a non-State actor in official relations with the WHO, The Task Force for Global Health participates as an observer in the Working Group on Pandemic Readiness (WGPR), a Member State-led group of nations that seeks to reform the global response, including the International Health Regulations (IHR). These regulations define countries’ obligations and rights in responding to public health events and emergencies. The Task Force also participates as an  observer in the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), a group of Member States developing a supplementary treaty or agreement to ensure global cooperation during such emergencies as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal of these two groups is to analyze what the world could have done better and put into action improvements needed to address the next pandemic. 

At the 75th World Health Assembly on May 22-28 in Geneva, Switzerland, the WGPR will report on actions taken at WHO and recommend a process for moving forward on IHR reform over the next year.  The scope and focus of the proposed INB treaty or instrument prepared will be developed and considered in various forums over the next two years, with the goal of official consideration by the 77th Assembly in May 2024.

The Task Force comments on WGPR and INB policy options draw upon expertise from  nearly 40 years of programmatic work to ensure that the reformed IHR and the proposed treaty provide better international response to current and future public health threats.

Major policy issues for both groups include shorter timelines for countries to share disease surveillance information and disease samples with WHO (and for WHO to take action and share information); ensuring testing and vaccine manufacturing capacity in low-resource countries; and financing WHO pandemic preparedness globally. 

In comments to the WHO, The Task Force has been strongly supportive of the two groups’ efforts to address inequity, including timely access to vaccines and treatments, clear benefits for sharing samples between countries to be used to develop private-sector vaccines, and equitable imposition of travel restrictions on countries that share information about outbreaks. The Task Force’s input to the WHO working group also stresses the importance of national public health systems and integration into existing programs within the health system such as adult immunization programs, neglected tropical disease programs and others to ensure sustainable capacity.

Header photo courtesy of the World Health Organization.

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