hclark18_VectorStoryGetty Images_covid VectorStory/Getty Images
en English

Delivering the Pandemic Accord the World Needs

A new pandemic threat will emerge; there is no excuse not to be ready for it. That is why national leaders must complete negotiations on an effective, multisectoral, and multilateral agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response in time for the 77th World Health Assembly in May.

AUCKLAND/RIGA/LONDON – If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it is that no one is safe anywhere until everyone is safe everywhere, and that delivering global safety is possible only through collaboration. It was with this in mind that the World Health Organization’s 194 member countries decided in December 2021 to negotiate a convention, agreement, or other international instrument that would support pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response globally. With the deadline for those negotiations approaching fast – the “pandemic accord” is supposed to be delivered in time for the 77th World Health Assembly in May – it is worth considering what is at stake.

A pandemic accord is critical to safeguard our collective future. Only a strong global pact on pandemics can protect future generations from a repeat of the COVID-19 crisis, which led to millions of deaths and caused widespread social and economic devastation, owing not least to insufficient international collaboration.

But the global effort to deliver such an accord is being threatened by misinformation and disinformation. Among the falsehoods that have been circulating is the claim that the pandemic accord would enable the WHO to exert far-reaching authority over countries and their citizens during a public-health emergency.

Some allege, for example, that the WHO could require the adoption of digital vaccine passports that would enable it to monitor – and control – people’s movements. Others say that it would interfere in matters of national sovereignty. There are even some who worry that the WHO would deploy armed forces to enforce vaccination orders and lockdowns.

All of these claims are wholly false. For starters, the deployment of a WHO-led armed force to ensure compliance would fall well outside the organization’s mandate. Moreover, while the pandemic accord is a global pact, individual countries are spearheading it. Sovereign countries proposed it, are negotiating it, will determine what is in it, and will decide whether it succeeds or fails.

Countries are doing this not because of some dictum from the WHO – like the negotiations, participation in any instrument would be entirely voluntary – but because they need what the accord can and must offer. In fact, a pandemic accord would deliver vast and universally shared benefits, including greater capacity to detect new and dangerous pathogens, access to information about pathogens detected elsewhere in the world, and timely and equitable delivery of tests, treatments, vaccines, and other lifesaving tools.

Subscribe to PS Digital

Subscribe to PS Digital

Access every new PS commentary, our entire On Point suite of subscriber-exclusive content – including Longer Reads, Insider Interviews, Big Picture/Big Question, and Say More – and the full PS archive.

Subscribe Now

As countries enter what should be the final stages of the negotiations, governments must work to refute and debunk false claims about the accord. At the same time, negotiators must ensure that the agreement lives up to its promise to prevent and mitigate pandemic-related risks. This requires, for example, provisions aimed at ensuring that when another pandemic threat does arise, all relevant responses – from reporting the identification of risky pathogens to delivering tools like tests and vaccines on an equitable basis – are implemented quickly and effectively. As the COVID-19 pandemic showed, collaboration between the public and private sectors focused on advancing the public good is also essential.

A new pandemic threat will emerge; there is no excuse not to be ready for it. It is thus imperative to build an effective, multisectoral, and multilateral approach to pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. Given the unpredictable nature of public-health risks, a global strategy must embody a spirit of openness and inclusiveness. There is no time to waste, which is why we are calling on all national leaders to redouble their efforts to complete the accord by the May deadline.

Beyond protecting countless lives and livelihoods, the timely delivery of a global pandemic accord would send a powerful message: even in our fractured and fragmented world, international cooperation can still deliver global solutions to global problems.

This commentary is signed by Carlos Alvarado, President of Costa Rica (2018-22); Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile (2006-10); Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands (2002-10); Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations; Joyce Banda, President of Malawi (2012-14); Kjell Magne Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway (1997-2000, 2001-05); Kim Campbell, Prime Minister of Canada (1993); Alfred Gusenbauer, Chancellor of Austria (2007-08); Seung-Soo Han, Prime Minister of South Korea (2009-09); Mehdi Jomaa, Prime Minister of Tunisia (2014-15); Horst Köhler, President of Germany (2004-10); Rexhep Meidani, President of Albania (1997-2002); Mario Monti, Prime Minister of Italy (2011-13); Francisco Sagasti, President of Peru (2020-21); Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1997-99); Juan Somavía, former Director of the International Labour Organization; Micheline Calmy-Rey, former President of the Swiss Confederation; Baroness Lynda Chalker, former Minister of Overseas Development, UK; Chester A. Crocker, former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, USA; Marzuki Darusman, former Attorney General of Indonesia; Mohamed ElBaradei, former Vice President of Egypt; Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia; Lawrence Gonzi, former Prime Minister of Malta; Lord George Robertson, former Secretary General of NATO; Ismail Serageldin, Co-Chair of NGIC and Vice President of the World Bank (1992-2000); Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; Rosen Plevneliev, President of Bulgaria (2012-17); Petar Stoyanov, President of Bulgaria (1997-2002); Chiril Gaburici, Prime Minister of Moldova (2015); Mladen Ivanic, Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2014-18); Zlatko Lagumdzija, Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the UN, Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2001-02), and Deputy Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1993-96), (2012-15); Rashid Alimov, Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (2016-18); Jan Fisher, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic (2009-10); Csaba Korossi, former President of the UN General Assembly; Maria Fernanda Espinosa, former President of the UN General Assembly; Volkan Bozkir, former President of the UN General Assembly; Ameenah Gurib Fakim, President of Mauritius (2015-18); Filip Vujanovic, President of Montenegro (2003-18); Borut Pahor, President of Slovenia (2012-22) and Prime Minister (2008-12); Ivo Josipovic, President of Croatia (2010-15); Professor Erik Berglof, London School of Economics and Political Science; Professor Justin Lin, Beijing University; Professor Bai Chong-En, Tsinghua School of Economics and Management Studies; Professor Robin Burgess, London School of Economics and Political Science; Professor Shang-jin Wei, Columbia University; Professor Harold James, Princeton University; Ahmed Galal, former Minister of Finance, Egypt; Professor Jong-Wha Lee, Korea University; Professor Leonhard Wantchekon, African School of Economics, Benin; Professor Ernst-Ludwig von Thadden, Mannheim University; Professor Kaushik Basu, Cornell University; Professor Bengt Holmstrom, MIT; Professor Mathias Dewatripont, Université Libre de Bruxelles; Professor Dalia Marin, University of Munich; Professor Richard Portes, London Business School; Professor Chris Pissarides, London School of Economics and Political Science; Professor Diane Coyle, University of Cambridge; Mustapha Nabli, former Governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia; Professor Wendy Carlin, University College London; Professor Gerard Roland, University of California, Berkeley; Professor Nora Lustig, Tulane University; Piroska Nagy-Mohacsi, London School of Economics and Political Science; Professor Philippe Aghion, College de France; and Professor Devi Sridhar, University of Edinburg.