WHO Pandemic Treaty

Gold logo of the World Health Organization hangs on a wooden wall. A snake is coiled around a staff infront of a mp of the world with the leaves of the UN symbol on both sides
United States Mission Geneva | CC BY 2.0

WHO Pandemic Treaty - International Collaboration for a Healthier Future

The Covid-19 pandemic was a huge eyeopener to global health organisations and world leaders about their unpreparedness to deal with large scale and fast spreading deadly infections. It was the worst health crisis since the 1940's, and was the first time that most of the world experienced strict lockdowns, restrictions to movement, and quarantines all at the same time.

Much criticism has been placed on those in charge for their poor pandemic responses and failure to implement measures which could have saved lives. Slowness to react, lack of preparedness and funding, vaccine inequality, and a general lack of consensus between countries prevented the implementation of effective global strategies.

Better World Info’s platform on the ➡️ WHO Pandemic Preparedness Treaty analyses this new strategy for global health security, financing, disease surveillance, vaccine equity, and the need for global collaboration and transparency.

Biodiversity loss, rapidly changing habitats, and over exploitation of the Earth’s precious resources puts animals into greater contact with humans and increases the risk of zoonotic diseases.

Recent studies also reveal that over half of infectious diseases have been worsened by climate change. The annual probability of extreme epidemics could increase threefold in the coming decades without serious intervention.

Global pandemics destroy lives, healthcare systems, livelihoods, education, and economies. The coronavirus death toll reached 7 million, it slashed global economic output by $8.5 trillion, it set back gender equality by decades, and human rights violations skyrocketed.

To allow governments to respond faster and more efficiently to global health emergencies and to prevent future generations from excessive suffering, the WHO proposed a Global Pandemic Treaty in November 2021. After many stalls and setbacks, WHO member states have now agreed to finalise the agreement in May 2024 at the 76th World Health Conference.

Alongside the implimentation of a treaty, WHO members are also discussing proposed amendments to the 2005 ➡️ International Health Regulations (IHR) with a focus on public health emergencies, future global security, equity, and the surveillance of high impact epidemics.


A scientist wearing blue PPE works in a lab, his is facing away from the camera and he is holding a long plastic cotton swab
Unsplash | JC Gellidon

What is in the Pandemic Agreement?

A revised text of the pandemic treaty draft was released in March 2024 with a focus on solidarity, fairness, inclusion, gender, sustainability, and climate. Negotiations are still ongoing regarding access to medicines, reducing disparity between poor and rich countries, and patent protection. A central theme of the treaty is the facilitation of the production and distribution of vaccines in times of crisis.

The treaty also places emphasis on the importance of early warning systems, the strengthening of healthcare systems in general, transparency and easing the flow of information, the sharing of new technologies across borders, and stabilising global supply chains.

There is a huge need to create a global data collective and monitoring system to allow information on disease outbreaks to be shared quickly and easily. Financing will also play an important role in the case of developing nations, and in the promotion of the research and development of new drugs and vaccines against emerging diseases.


Cartoon showing public health from governmental and non-governmental perception
Giovanni Maki, Public Library of Science | CC BY 2.5

Criticism of the Pandemic Treaty and Fake News

A torrent of fake news surrounding the treaty has put negotiations at risk and fed into sensationalised stories and conspiracy theories. Other more serious criticism from governmental leaders expresses concern about their national rights and loss of autonomy over future global health issues.

There are fears about the centralisation of power and the potential ability of the WHO to implement international curfews or compulsory vaccination mandates. Both instances would constitute a violation of national sovereignty, and neither are mentioned in the draft text as measures that could take place.

The draft agreement still requires improvement, and we should not be distracted from the underlying message of solidarity and unity. Various sites offer fact checking services for clarity on contended issues, and we encourage those with concerns to read the draft and use our covid-19 news guide to help decipher fact from fiction.

The WHO cannot intervene in the sovereignty of states, and the preservation of national sovereignty is mentioned several times in the draft treaty. One of the key principles of the draft secures the power of states to prepare for, respond to, and combat future pandemics.

The treaty has been negotiated by all 194 member states, which means that all members have the opportunity to provide input and voice any concerns. Whilst it is true that the WHO can make recommendations and criticize states for their actions, it does not have the power to impose sanctions.

Concerns around data collection as an infringement on privacy and data protection are justifiable as some of the data mentioned goes beyond what would be necessary to assist in a pandemic situation. As the draft is yet to be finalised, we await to see if these concerns have been addressed.


Bar chart displaying 'The World's Biggest Players in Pharma' in 2021. The results have been calculated using sales and research and development figures
Statista | CC BY-ND 4.0

Social Justice and the Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry

At its core, the pandemic treaty is about the fairer distribution of vaccines, and the sharing of knowledge and other resources between poorer and richer countries. The coronavirus pandemic taught us that urgent measures are needed to narrow the gap between the two.

The COVAX initiative and its coordinators GAVI were co-founded by the WHO. They aimed to ensure more equitable access to covid-19 vaccines, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Despite failing to hit key targets, it proved that global cooperation can be achieved. It also exposed the huge gap in support, lack of medicines, and vaccine availability in poorer nations.

The initiative was strongly criticised for its lack of transparency in its contracts with pharmaceutical companies, it was inhibited by pandemic profiteers, and it failed to expand vaccine production in low-income countries.

In current negotiations, the Equity Group and a group of African countries are demanding that they produce vaccines themselves and supply their own regions. This would prevent pharmaceutical companies from wealthier states who have access to greater funding and research facilities from reaping the profits of vaccine patents.

Each new draft of the treaty has revealed a weakening of promises and obligations from wealthier states on this matter as the greed of Big Pharma influences policy and weakens efforts towards greater cooperation.

When the interests of the pharmaceutical industry influence pandemic preparedness and response policies, this creates unequal distribution of resources and significant price hikes for vaccines and medicines.

Currently, there are no provisions in the draft contract which prevents influence by the pharmaceutical industry. The draft also fails to commit nations to the transfer of technology which is an essential component in the provision of fair distribution and supply of medical assets. According to a proposal from the EU Commission, the transfer of technology and know-how is based on voluntary action only.


Image of a magnifying glass centred over the WHO name and logo on the WHO website coronavirus section
Nurse Together | https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/deed.en

The Pandemic Treaty – A Tool for a Better World?

The debate about the WHO pandemic treaty shows a high level of mistrust in science, governments, and transnational organisations. The Covid-19 pandemic has left deep marks on society, the economy, and our day-to-day lives. In many places, poor political decisions and a lack of reappraisal fuelled weak pandemic responses and preventable suffering.

False reports that use unfounded statements ignite social tensions, create populist sentiment, and widen divisions. Lies about WHO-controlled compulsory vaccination or the loss of national sovereignty distracts from the real goals of the pandemic treaty - a fairer distribution of medical resources and knowledge and a global defence against future pandemics.

Elite leaders in industry and Big Pharma so far have prevented this kind of global cooperation and a socially just approach in pursuit of money and power. Leading health organisations including Doctors Without Borders have called for clear obligations and binding rules on the transfer of knowledge and technology, as well as a suspension of patent law in the event of a global pandemic emergency.

To ensure a fair and just pandemic response in the future we must counteract monopolisation from pharmaceutical companies and to ensure that scientific findings and research investments are shared unequivocally.

Scientists all agree that the next pandemic is coming. Preparedness, international cooperation, and a fair distribution of funding, knowledge, and medicines are essential to avoid excessive mortality and suffering.

“How such a treaty is developed and what it looks like, and whether it is ratified, is a matter for our Member States – the nations of the world. We must leave a legacy for our children: a safer world for all.” - Dr. Tedros, Director-General of the WHO

German speakers should visit our partner site Bessere Welt Info for a European perspective on the WHO Pandemievertrag.

Author: Maximilian Stark, 28.03.24, translated and edited by Rachael Mellor 16.04.24 licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

For more information on the WHO Pandemic Treaty see below ⬇️

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