Nations fail to reach pandemic accord, talks to resume in April

Geneva, Switzerland - Two years of talks aimed at striking a landmark global agreement on handling future pandemics failed to seal a deal in time on Thursday, and will restart next month for one final push.

Scarred by Covid-19, which shredded economies, overturned societies, crippled health systems, and killed millions, countries are trying to craft an international accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.
Scarred by Covid-19, which shredded economies, overturned societies, crippled health systems, and killed millions, countries are trying to craft an international accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.  © Unsplash/Fusion Medical Animation

Scarred by Covid-19, which shredded economies, overturned societies, crippled health systems, and killed millions, countries are trying to craft an international accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.

But while they largely agree on the principles of what should be done when the next pandemic strikes, nations are still at odds over how far they are prepared to go to turn those notions into binding commitments.

The ninth and supposedly final two-week round of talks therefore ended Thursday without finding a breakthrough.

Trump vows to deport pro-Palestinian protesters: "Throw them out of the country"
Donald Trump Trump vows to deport pro-Palestinian protesters: "Throw them out of the country"

"You are not far away from concluding a deal," World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told countries as the talks petered out at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

"I always keep hope alive and I am hopeful that you will."

He continued, "The treaty is a life-saving instrument, not merely a piece of paper."

"It holds the power to transform our collective response to future pandemics, to protect lives, and to safeguard the wellbeing of communities," the WHO chief added.

He urged nations to work towards getting a final agreement by the end of May.

New draft text to be drafted amid complaints length complaints

Campaign groups have warned that the pressure to reach an agreement could lead to a watered-down text which does little to make the world safer than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Campaign groups have warned that the pressure to reach an agreement could lead to a watered-down text which does little to make the world safer than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic.  © Unsplash/Martin Sanchez

Mindful that a pandemic could hit at any time, the plan was to finalize an agreement at these talks, so it could be approved by the WHO's 194 member states at their annual assembly, which starts on May 27.

Instead, fresh talks will run from April 29 to May 10.

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Body bureau conducting the talks will draw up a new draft text no later than April 18 and work to finalize talks by May 5.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. makes big announcement in New York ballot access drive
Politicians Robert F. Kennedy Jr. makes big announcement in New York ballot access drive

The current draft has ballooned from 30 pages to nearly 100, with suggested amendments. Some participants want the INB to cut it down to 20 pages.

"It's just too long," said one Western diplomat.

"It's too detailed and too broad. Agreeing on 30 pages with such a level of uncertainty in such a short time is impossible."

Campaign groups have warned that the pressure to reach an agreement could lead to a watered-down text which does little to make the world safer than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic.

K. M. Gopakumar, senior researcher with the Third World Network NGO, told AFP the new text would likely be a lighter document, which could be added to at a later stage.

"They have climbed down from a full-fledged treaty to a much more concise document," he said at the WHO HQ.

"It's a face-saving exercise as of now, because they are so desperate to finish everything by May."

What are the main points of dispute for the pandemic talks?

The main issues of contention include shared access to emerging pathogens, better prevention and monitoring of disease outbreaks, reliable financing, and transferring pandemic-fighting technology to poorer countries.

Wealthier states want immediate information-sharing on new and emerging pathogens with pandemic potential, as well as strict – and expensive – preparedness obligations for all countries.

In return, developing countries want water-tight language on technology transfer and equitable access to vaccines, tests, and treatments.

Cover photo: Unsplash/Fusion Medical Animation

More on Politics: