The State Department and Department of Health and Human Services said that U.S. negotiators are committed to ensuring that an international pandemic accord does not undermine American “sovereignty or security” while helping to “increase the transparency and effectiveness” of international partners during global pandemics.
Last Friday, discussions wrapped up from a weeklong meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body at the World Health Organization — the fourth meeting so far to work on a pandemic pact. The INB, which was established by the World Health Assembly at December 2021 special session to address the “catastrophic failure of the international community in showing solidarity and equity in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic,” considered a conceptual zero draft that was drawn up after the third meeting.
“The objective of the WHO CA+, guided by equity, the vision, principles and rights set out herein, is to prevent pandemics, save lives, reduce disease burden and protect livelihoods, through strengthening, proactively, the world’s capacities for preventing, preparing for and responding to, and recovery of health systems from, pandemics,” the draft states. “The WHO CA+ aims to comprehensively and effectively address systemic gaps and challenges that exist in these areas, at national, regional and international levels, through substantially reducing the risk of pandemics, increasing pandemic preparedness and response capacities, progressive realization of universal health coverage and ensuring coordinated, collaborative and evidence-based pandemic response and resilient recovery of health systems at community, national, regional and global levels.”
The next meeting is scheduled for April 3-6, with the goal of producing a first draft after that meeting and a final draft for consideration by the 77th World Health Assembly in 2024.
“The start of discussions of concrete language for the WHO pandemic accord sends a clear signal that countries of the world want to work together for a safer, healthier future where we are better prepared for, and able to prevent future pandemic threats, and respond to them effectively and equitably,” INB Bureau Co-Chair Roland Driece, of the Netherlands, said.
In a joint statement Wednesday, HHS and the State Department said that the U.S. “used this meeting to underscore its commitment to the process, with a goal of developing an accord that builds on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthens U.S. national security by establishing clear, agreed roles and responsibilities for the WHO and its member states and partners.”
Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto, who served as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva from 2014 to 2017, was appointed lead negotiator for the U.S. in October — with the goals of the U.S. to build capacity to respond to pandemics, reduce the threat posed by zoonotic diseases, enable rapid and more equitable responses to outbreaks, and “establish sustainable financing, governance, and accountability to break the cycle of pandemic panic and neglect.”
HHS and the State Department said that “much work remains to be done on this accord to ensure that the text meets these complex needs and is ultimately implementable for the United States.”
“While the United States is deeply committed to a process that should result in shared commitments and shared responsibilities among nations, we are also aware of concerns by some that these negotiations could result in diminished U.S. sovereignty,” the agencies said. “The United States will not support any measure at the World Health Organization, including in these negotiations, that in any way undermines our sovereignty or security.”
The agencies vowed that “any accord resulting from these negotiations would be designed to increase the transparency and effectiveness of cooperation among nations during global pandemics and would in no way empower the World Health Organization or any other international body to impose, direct, or oversee national actions.”
“It will not compromise the ability of American citizens to make their own health care decisions,” the statement added. “COVID-19 served as a stark reminder that infectious diseases do not stop at our borders. In order to protect Americans from current and future health threats, we must ensure that the lessons of COVID-19 and other infectious disease threats are reflected in a clear strategy rooted in global engagement.”