September 20, 2023
The “call to action” States make today in the Political Declaration are laudable, but aspirational, even empty in terms of hard commitments, funding, and action. The Political Declaration will be of little value if States fail to follow through with concrete mechanisms to promote solidarity and secure compliance. What is most urgent is achieving a fairer, more equitable world, where lifesaving medical resources are affordable, available, and accessible everywhere. Fourteen million lives were lost to COVID-19. What we decide today, and in the negotiations for the Pandemic Accord and revised IHR, will determine whether we allow the same in the next pandemic.
During COVID-19, the lack of investment in health care systems and pandemic preparedness left health systems overwhelmed, and wealthier nations buying out the limited global supplies of lifesaving countermeasures. Lower income nations were left reliant on charitable donations and aid, a model that proved unworkable and entirely inequitable. This was especially true in sharing vaccines and the knowledge and resources needed to produce vaccines.
States failed to comply with the even minimal obligations set out through the IHR, as well as with the recommendations set by the World Health Organization. It did little good to have well-intended norms that were not enforceable.
Today, the O’Neill Institute, a WHO Collaborating Center, makes three recommendations for States to maintain political momentum and solidarity for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response.
First, financing. We urge Heads of State and Government to sustainably and adequately fund pandemic preparedness and response with concrete pledges and targets. This requires full financial, political and technical support for new mechanisms for equitable access to lifesaving countermeasures.
Second, equity must be operationalized. Commitments to pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response should be universal but also cognizant of States’ varying resources and capacities. Lower-income countries, which often face compliance challenges, should be guaranteed financial, technical and other assistance.
Third, compliance with international law. States must agree on robust, transparent mechanisms for compliance and accountability. Heads of State and Government should provide full support for peer review mechanisms, and for an independent mechanism for monitoring the implementation of States’ commitments. These mechanisms need not be punitive. Accountability mechanisms could identify compliance gaps, and link unmet obligations with financial and technical assistance. To build trust and transparency, accountability mechanisms could offer a formal role for civil society, and be located in the public domain.
If we fail to meet this historic moment through watered-down promises, and without bold commitments, it could be many decades before we regain the opportunity to make the world more secure from pandemics, for ourselves and for future generations. We have a great responsibility, and I urge us all to rise together to meet it.