The countdown to a pandemic treaty


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Pandemic Agreement

Mains level: Key features of Pandemic Agreement

Why in the news?

In March 2021, a call for a pandemic treaty by 25 heads of government and international agencies marked a pivotal moment. The WHO Pandemic Agreement’s final negotiations began last week. With approval pending in May, its fate remains uncertain amid debates.

Key features of Pandemic Agreement

  • Aim of the Pandemic Agreement: Address systemic failures revealed by COVID-19 crisis, strengthen global defenses, and prevent future pandemics from escalating into catastrophic human crises. Focus on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response with equity as the goal.
  • Coverage of Issues: Includes pathogen surveillance, healthcare workforce capacity, supply chain and logistics, technology transfer for vaccine production, and waivers of intellectual property rights. Aims to strengthen surveillance for pathogens with pandemic potential and manage antimicrobial resistance.
  • Equitable Access: Emphasis on equitable access to medical products across provisions, including language on principles, preparedness, production, technology transfer, access, benefit-sharing, supply, and procurement.
  • Establishment of Conference of Parties (COP): Proposed establishment to oversee the implementation of the Pandemic Agreement 

Disagreements between Developing countries and Developed countries 

  • Developing vs. Developed Countries’ Perspectives: Developing countries largely embrace the revised negotiating text, emphasizing equity and clarity on obligations vs. responsibilities. Developed countries criticize the text, particularly regarding financing and intellectual property issues, considering them ‘redlines’.
  • Disagreements: Major substantive disagreements exist alongside general disagreement on negotiation modalities. Developing countries, represented by India among others, stress the importance of clarity on obligations to operationalize equity within the Agreement.

Concerns related Pandemic Agreement

  • Equity Concerns:  Dissatisfaction among developed countries and the pharmaceutical industry regarding access and benefit-sharing provisions.
  • Global Governance and Enforcement Challenges: Lack of adequate enforcement mechanisms poses a significant challenge. Without robust enforcement, the Agreement risks being symbolic. Enforcement capabilities are vital for coordination efforts, stockpile management, medical response teams, and data sharing.
  • Issues related to technology transfer: Even with consensus on key issues like technology transfer and intellectual property waivers, the Agreement may be ineffective without robust enforcement mechanisms.
  • International Health Regulations (IHR): Existing IHR are legally binding but failed to prevent unjust travel restrictions, vaccine hoarding during COVID-19. Proposals for a decision-making body and a secretariat within the Agreement aim to address these shortcomings.

Way Forward:

  • Negotiations Conclusion: The current round of negotiations in Geneva is set to conclude this week, to achieve a consensus decision by the World Health Assembly by the end of May.
  • Diluted Agreement: The possibility of a diluted Agreement looms large as there is pressure to achieve consensus. Contentious issues like intellectual property (IP) waivers may have diluted language, referring to national circumstances and using non-binding terms like “best endeavor.”
  • Collective Effort: The Agreement acknowledges that no single government or institution can tackle the threat of future pandemics alone, emphasizing the importance of international collaboration and cooperation.

Conclusion: The Pandemic Agreement aims to address COVID-19 failures, emphasizing equity and preparedness. Disagreements persist, especially on access and enforcement. Negotiations aim for consensus, but risks of dilution remain amid pressure for agreement.

Mains PYQ

Q  COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented devastation worldwide. However, technological advancements are being availed readily to win over the crisis. Give an account of how technology was sought to aid management of the pandemic. (UPSC IAS/2020)

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

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