UPDATE: On Friday, 12 November 2021, the draft report of the Member States Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness for and Response to Health Emergencies (WGPR) was published with the document number, A/WGPR/5/2. The report is available here. The fifth session of the WGPR will convene on Monday, 15 November 2021 to formally adopt the WGPR report. The WHO will convene a special session of the World Health Assembly from 29 November 2021 to 1 December 2021 to consider the “benefits of developing a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response with a view towards the establishment of an intergovernmental process to draft and negotiate such a convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response, taking into account the report of the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies.” The daily timetable for the special session of the World Health Assembly can be found here.
On Thursday, 4 November 2021, member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) finalized the report of the Member States Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness for and Response to Health Emergencies (WGPR); the text bears the time stamp of 4 November at 17:41 CET. A 72 hour silence procedure was imposed immediately after the close of the fourth meeting of the Working group on strengthening WHO preparedness and response to health emergencies (in essence, if one WHO member state raises an objection, the silence procedure is broken, and there is no consensus).
On Monday, 8 November 2021, parties close to the negotiations informed Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) that the silence procedure held. In the coming days, the WHO will convene a procedural meeting to formally adopt the final report of the WGPR; it is expected that the WHO will publish this report after its formal adoption.
The report provides the World Health Assembly Special Session (WHASS) the following conclusions on the way forward:
29.The WGPR proposes for consideration of the WHASS the following:
a) Establish an inter-governmental negotiating body in charge of developing a WHO Convention, Agreement or other international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response;
b) Outline a clear, efficient, effective, Member State led, transparent and inclusive process for how to identify and develop the substantive elements and a zero draft of a new instrument, the modalities of negotiation of the instrument, and on what timelines;
c) To support the WGPR to continue its work under resolution WHA 74.7, including to identify the tools to implement the recommendations that fall under the technical work of WHO and further develop proposals to strengthen the IHR (2005), including potential targeted IHR (2005) amendments, and elements that may most effectively be addressed in other venues.
The outcome of this 9 page report involved tortuous paragraph-by-paragraph negotiations over four days; non-State actors in official relations were invited to observe these proceedings which included the elimination of rogue semicolons and subordinate clauses. Paragraph 8(a) on equity in the covid-19 response is a positive example of these intense negotiations.
Equity. Member States agree that equity is critically important for global health both as a principle and an outcome.Member States emphasized that equity,including capacity building and equitable and timely access to and distribution of medical countermeasures and addressing barriers to timely access to and distribution of medical countermeasures, and related issues such as research and development, intellectual property, technology transfer and empowering/scaling up local and regional manufacturing capacity during emergencies to discover, develop and deliver effective medical countermeasures and other tools and technologies,is essential, in particular in prevention, preparedness and response to health emergencies. While each of these areas are complex, equity is at the core of the breakdown in the current system. Despite unprecedented developments of medical countermeasures, the challenge remains to ensure their universal and equitable access and distribution, with a view to achieving UHC. This is an issue that could be meaningfully addressed under the umbrella of a potential new instrument and through discussions in several other relevant global fora.
The World Health Assembly Special Session will take place from 29 November 2021 to 1 December 2021; in the the run-up to this meeting member states will negotiate the text of a decision to provide a pathway for the WHO to engage in normative work on pandemic preparedness.