WHO chief warns pandemic accord hangs in the balance

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The head of the World Health Organization voiced fears Monday that countries will fail to strike a pandemic preparedness agreement by May, saying “future generations may not forgive us”.

Shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHO’s 194 member states are negotiating an international accord aimed at ensuring countries are better equipped to deal with the next health catastrophe, or to prevent it altogether.

The plan was to seal the agreement at the 2024 annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body, which convenes on May 27.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said time was running out — and if nobody is prepared to budge, the whole project risks going nowhere.

At the opening of the WHO’s executive board meeting in Geneva, Tedros reminded countries that world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly had agreed a commitment to resolve negotiations on the pandemic accord, and amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR), by May this year.

“I must say I’m concerned that member states may not meet that commitment. Time is very short. And there are several outstanding issues that remain to be resolved,” Tedros said.

Failure to deliver the agreement would be “a missed opportunity for which future generations may not forgive us,” he said.

“It will take courage and it will take compromise.”

“I urge all member states to work with urgency and purpose to reach consensus on a strong agreement that will help to protect our children and grandchildren from future pandemics.”

WHO member states decided in December 2021 to launch the negotiating and drafting process for a new international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

The accord would aim to ensure better global preparedness and a more equitable response for future pandemics.

Tedros declared an end to Covid-19 as an international public health emergency in May 2023.

The WHO’s governance is split between director-general Tedros, the World Health Assembly and the executive board.

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