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No, health body’s global agreement to better prepare for future pandemics has not been ‘abandoned’ after ‘backlash’

IN SHORT: Several social media posts claim that the World Health Organization has “abandoned” the pandemic agreement after “backlash” from the public. The treaty aims to unite nations to prevent, prepare for and respond to future pandemics. And work on it continues.

“The WHO has abandoned its contentious Pandemic Treaty following public discourse and backlash,” reads a claim circulating on social media in South Africa and elsewhere since late April 2024.

For more than two years, the 194 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) have been negotiating a draft pandemic agreement, also known as a pandemic accord or pandemic treaty. Its objective is to “prevent, prepare for and respond to pandemics”.

The need for the agreement arose from the lack of preparedness for and poor international cooperation during the global Covid-19 outbreak. The fact that people in wealthier countries received treatment and vaccines much faster than people in poorer countries was also a major concern.

The first step came in March 2021, when 25 world leaders, including South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, announced that “nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response”.   

“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,” they said.

These leaders then took the idea to the WHO, the only organisation that directs and coordinates international health work. In December 2021, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) was set up to draft, debate and finalise the agreement.

The first version, the “zero draft” of the agreement, was published in February 2023.

Since then, there have been concerns and conspiracy theories in South Africa and across the world that the agreement would give global power to the WHO, allowing it to lock down countries, impose travel bans, force vaccines on people and more.

But none of this is true, as Africa Check explained in May 2023. The agreement, when adopted, would be entirely voluntary, and any laws resulting from it could only be passed by member states themselves.

Comments on the recent claim that the agreement has been “abandoned” include:

The claim can also be seen here and here. (Note: See more instances listed at the end of this report.)

But has the WHO really “abandoned” the “contentious” pandemic agreement after “backlash” from the public? We checked.

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‘Getting this done means getting it right’

Work on the pandemic agreement continues. The most recent draft is dated 22 March 2024 and is publicly available on the WHO website.

From 29 April to 10 May, the INB resumed its ninth meeting to negotiate the treaty. The meeting, including documents and video of the discussions, is also available on the WHO website. No final agreement came out of the meeting.

But in a 10 May press release, the INB said that member states had agreed to continue working on the agreement and to refine the draft ahead of the annual World Health Assembly, which takes place from 27 May to 1 June.

“This is not a simple exercise,” South Africa’s Dr Precious Matsoso, co-chair of the INB, said in the statement

“This is the first ever process to develop a proposed agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. Getting this done means getting it right, and the INB Bureau is committed to help finalise a meaningful, lasting agreement.”

Negotiating a complex treaty covering the complex issues of global disease outbreaks, with 194 countries required to agree to its terms, is a long process that has already taken years.

But the pandemic agreement has not been abandoned.

Other posts claiming that the agreement has been abandoned can be found here, here and here.

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