Negotiating a pandemic treaty (part II)

Some reflections related to section IV of the “working draft, on the basis of progress achieved, of a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response” (INB document A/INB2/3) discussed by the INB on 19 July 2022.

As stated various times in yesterday’s INB deliberations, the “Intergovernmental Negotiating Body to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response” (INB) is still very much in a compilation and “cultivation” mode, and not yet properly negotiating.

Part IV of the working draft of the new “international instrument” that will be discussed by the INB today does not provide any progress in this regard. The INB members have been nice to each other. they have not yet gone to where it will hurt, where there will be contradiction and hard debate.

Just look at the title of section IV that will be discussed today: “Specific provisions/areas/elements/obligations

And look at the introduction to each of the 14 sub-topics: “In developing international, regional or national legislative, administrative, technical and/or other measures for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, the following should be taken into account, among others”.

All this is rather confusing and does not (yet) allow delegates and observers to see the value of the new “pandemic treaty”.

At a certain point, the INB will need to answer the pertinent question: Which specific matters and related member states’ obligations in the field of pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery in their own country and internationally shall be ruled or regulated by this new international legal instrument, to really make a difference, and because they are not yet fully or adequately covered by existing international instruments?

To achieve this, the “negotiators” will need to get rid of the current wish-list and focus the new instrument on a set of core fields to be regulated. To do so, they also need to address and overcome some of the blurry and distracting language throughout the document.

What does “whole-of-society” mean? It looks as if this notion is used as a blueprint for promoting governments partnering with the private, commercial sector even in fields where the new instrument should regulate their activities.

Or what is “national sovereignty”? In the draft document, it is mainly used to restrict the scope of the new instrument. But sovereignty could be looked at differently.

May I ask country representatives the following: How do you feel about national sovereignty if you do not have the money and means to properly care for your people, before, during and the Covid pandemic, in terms of universal access to public health care,

  • because of tax avoidance and evasion limiting your fiscal space;
  • because of unfair international terms of trade, e.g. regarding medical countermeasures;
  • because of debt services and austerity measures imposed by the IMF and other international financing bodies;
  • because of the unfair competition by a private healthcare providers, as part of a globalized commercialized and financialized system;
  • because of a unregulated globalized “labour market” that allows poaching of health workers without compensating the institutions and countries that have trained them for their investment.
  • etc. etc.

To re-establish your real sovereignty, and in a sense of true, systemic prevention of future pandemics, country representatives should dare to call for drafting the new instrument in a way that it contributes to achieving financial justice* and overcoming the colonial patterns of dependency and charity, by addressing the failures of the current international economic order, as these failures are a key economic and political determinant of weak health systems and unequal access to health care.

Solidarity and cooperation do not just mean giving more, but also taking – or stealing – less, and giving back proper sovereignty to all countries. But will you dare to call for this?

Thomas Schwarz, Executive Secretary
Medicus Mundi International – Network Health for All
19 July 2022,
Photo: Markus Spiske, via Unsplash

Oral input by Thomas Schwarz, MMI Network
INB, 19 July 2022, afternoon session

Thank you, chair, and thanks again for making this important conversation public by webcasting and recording it.

In the drafting and negotiation of section IV of the new international instrument, comprehensiveness is not an expected outcome, but relevance is very much so.

The relevance of the substantive elements of the new pandemic treaty will finally determine if all of us are currently part of a historic process, or if we just waste our time with the compilation of another aspirational and encyclopaedic document that will not change any of the realities that keep people sick, keep health systems vulnerable and keep national health authorities depending on international charity instead of having the means for caring for the health and well-being of their people, together with the people.

People are watching us, watching you. Right now, and over the next months. Do not let them down. Dare to reduce this key section of the pandemic treaty to providing strong regulation and clear guidance, by framing governments’ national and international obligations regarding matters that REALLY make a difference and change realities. By doing so, do not shy away from addressing the difficult and systemic issues.

Who can do so if not you, and if not now, in this treaty making process?

So, again, please dare, please do not restrict yourself to the low-hanging fruit, to matters for which consensus can be easily achieved, and to recommendations instead of binding regulation.

In my written input and the blog published on the website of Medicus Mundi international, I illustrated this challenge, and what is to be done, in a comment on national sovereignty and fiscal justice as a key ingredients of proper pandemic prevention and recovery.

And yes, you might say this is high-flying, and that this is not how diplomacy works. But ask Dr Tedros and Mike Ryan, ask the negotiators of the Alma Ata Declaration and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, ask Sir Michael Marmot, ask Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Helen Clark and the other members of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. Ask your people. They dare(d) to dream, too. And they dare(d) to call a spade a spade.

I really look forward to the start of proper INB negotiations, after this initial technical step of compilation and cultivation. Thank you!

See also:

“Our expectations are high…”
Comments on the working draft of the proposed “pandemic instrument”, in the follow-up of the second INB meeting, September 2022

Negotiating a pandemic treaty… High time to end the compilation mode
Blog related to the “second resumed session” of the first INB meeting, 6-8 June 2022

*The issue of financial justice is currently explored in a new G2H2 research and advocacy project related to the proposed pandemic treaty (see the 2021 report here). Hosting the secretariat of G2H2, the MMI Executive Secretary is engaged in this project. To know more and to get involved, please refer to