The proposal for a global treaty specifically addressing pandemic preparedness and response was first put forth by the President of the European Council in December 2020. It was subsequently supported by 26 heads of state and government, as well as the WHO Director-General in March 2021. The leaders stated in a joint commentary that “the main goal of this treaty would be to foster an all-of-government and all-of-society approach, strengthening national, regional and global capacities and resilience to future pandemics.” If eventually concluded, this would become the second global health treaty adopted under the auspices of WHO, following the adoption of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003. The proposal raises a number of interrelated questions regarding form, content and process. WHO Member States will discuss a spectrum of options regarding form, from a relatively detailed ‘treaty’ or a framework convention, from a non-binding to legally-binding instrument (or mix of binding and non-binding elements). Discussions regarding its content touch upon the range and depth of issues that should be within its scope. Also under debate is the question of how any eventual instrument will relate to the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) in terms of subject matter, legal and institutional arrangements. Finally, discussions are ongoing regarding process, for example, whether such an instrument should be negotiated under the auspices of the WHO or another intergovernmental organization, and what should be the roles of states and non-state actors such as civil society, experts and the private sector.
At the 74th World Health Assembly in May 2021, Member States agreed to hold a special session in November 2021 to discuss “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 an instrument. Various stakeholders are currently engaging in internal and external discussions on the instrument’s possible form, content and process. The Assembly established a Member State Working Group to report to the special session of the WHA with its findings, with a bureau comprised of one country from each of the six WHO regions: Botswana, France, Indonesia, Iraq, Singapore and the United States. The Working Group held its first meeting on 15-16 July 2021 to discuss modalities of the process, and is scheduled to meet periodically in the months leading up to November, when governments are scheduled to decide on how to move ahead.
The Global Health Centre has organized briefings and published a series of articles, working papers and briefing materials on the main issues revolving around the proposed pandemic treaty, available on this page. The treaty proposal has also spurred a range of comments and analysis, available below, with updates to be added as new materials become available.