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WHO hosts pandemic treaty talks

‘The world needs an iron-clad global agreement to set the rules’

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GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) — World nations gather Monday to thrash out whether to pursue a pandemic treaty setting out how to handle the next crisis — which experts fear is only a matter of time.

The three-day meeting at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva comes with the planet still besieged by Covid-19, nearly two years on from the first recorded cases.

The economic turmoil and millions of lives lost have triggered calls for new international defenses strong enough to prevent a repeat disaster.

“We will have more pandemics in the future. The question is not if, but when,” Jaouad Mahjour, the WHO assistant director-general for emergency preparedness, told reporters.

The World Health Assembly — the WHO’s decision-making body comprising all 194 member states — is holding an unprecedented special session to consider developing a new accord on pandemic preparedness and response.

The meeting should conclude with a resolution on the way forward. The desired outcome — whether a treaty or another formulation — will come later down the line, potentially as far off as 2024.

The existing International Health Regulations were simply not designed to handle pandemics on the scale of Covid-19, or ensure equity and preparedness, Mahjour said.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wants a treaty to end the sorry cycle of “neglect and panic.”

“The ongoing chaos of this pandemic only underlines why the world needs an iron-clad global agreement to set the rules,” he said Wednesday.

More than 70 countries so far are backing a treaty, the health ministers of 32 of them said in a joint article.

The ministers — from nations including Britain, Chile, Germany, Italy, Kenya, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and Turkey — said a treaty was “the only substantial proposal” that could ensure a “rapid, joint, effective, and equitable global response” to future outbreaks.

“We cannot wait for the next crisis before we act,” they wrote.

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