Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

How close is the World Health Organization to agreeing on pandemic response rules?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: WHO; Healthcare Initiatives;

Mains level: Health Care; Convention on Tobacco Control; Global Health Rules;

Why in the News?

Health officials of the World Health Organization (WHO) aim to finalize over two years of negotiations on new pandemic response rules when they convene in Geneva next week.

About the ‘Pandemic Treaty’

  • The pandemic treaty is a new legally binding agreement being negotiated to improve the global pandemic response. The treaty aims to address the shortcomings revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as inequitable vaccine distribution.
  • Article 12, a critical and contentious part of the treaty, proposes reserving around 20% of tests, treatments, and vaccines for WHO distribution to poorer countries during emergencies.
  • The treaty would be the second major health accord after the 2003 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Convention n Tobacco Control

  • Govt. of India ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2004, the first-ever international public health treaty focusing on the global public health issue of tobacco control.
  • The FCTC is a legally binding treaty that requires countries bound by the treaty — or Parties to implement evidence-based measures to reduce tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.

How will Global Health Rules Change?

  • Updates to the existing International Health Regulations (IHR) include a new alert system for different risk assessments of outbreaks, replacing the current single-level emergency declaration.
  • A new “early action alert” stage will be introduced, along with a potential “pandemic emergency” category for the most severe health threats.
  • Obligations for countries: Strengthened obligations for countries to inform the WHO about public health events, changing the language from “may” to “should”.

How do the countries view this pact?

  • Developed Countries
      • Wealthy countries are often cautious about sharing resources such as drugs and vaccines.
      • There is significant political pressure, especially from right-wing groups, fearing that the treaty could infringe on national sovereignty.
      • These countries are concerned about the financial implications, debating whether to set up a new fund or use existing resources like the World Bank’s $1 billion pandemic fund.
  • Underdeveloped Countries
    • Poorer countries emphasize the need for equitable access to treatments and vaccines, reflecting experiences of “vaccine apartheid” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • They advocate for stronger commitments from wealthier nations to support global health infrastructure and emergency response capabilities.

Future Scope of the New IHR Rules and the Pandemic Accord (Treaty):

  • More robust framework: The IHR updates and the pandemic treaty has designed to complement each other, creating a more robust framework for global health emergencies.
  • Promotes cooperation: The new rules aim to ensure faster, more transparent information sharing, and better co-operation during health crises.
  • Next steps for treaty negotiations: Next week’s World Health Assembly will focus on planning the next steps for the Treaty Negotiations, with a full agreement unlikely to be reached immediately.
  • Defenses against future pandemics: The successful implementation of both the IHR updates and the pandemic treaty could significantly strengthen the world’s defenses against future pandemics, addressing gaps exposed by COVID-19.

Conclusion: While there is a shared understanding of the treaty’s importance, countries’ views are shaped by their National interests, Financial concerns, and Political pressures, leading to complex and protracted negotiations.

Mains PYQ:

Q Critically examine the role of WHO in providing global health security during the Covid-19 pandemic. (UPSC IAS/2020)

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