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Building a Better Global Response to Disease

Among the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was reminded that disease knows no borders. What may begin as a mild cough in a single classroom can quickly turn into a public health outbreak thousands of miles away. And while COVID-19 was the most recent pandemic, it won’t be the last.

Fortunately, we have tools, talent, and some very hard won wisdom to address the global spread and impact of infectious disease. We also have the World Health Organization — the largest global health body and the only institution with the collective expertise and worldwide reach to help coordinate, prepare for, mitigate, and manage health crises.

After all, when disease knows no borders, our solutions need to be just as expansive.

Planning for the Next Global Health Emergency

In the wake of some of the hardest months of the COVID-19 pandemic, all 194 countries that comprise WHO convened the second-ever “special session” of the World Health Assembly. Their December 2021 gathering aimed to explore how WHO could best enshrine lessons learned from the pandemic to advance smart policy and sound prevention measures.

As a result of the meeting, participating countries unanimously agreed to establish an International Negotiating Body (INB) to pursue development of a new international agreement t0 strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.

Since that time, the Member State-led INB has been busy debating ideas and discussing potential text of a new international agreement. Under the premise that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the INB’s work has resulted in preliminary drafts that continue to evolve. The U.S. is an active member of the INB, which is co-chaired by the Netherlands and South Africa. In parallel, nations are also working through a process of aligning on targeted amendments to the IHR to ensure that these international instruments are complementary and drive toward the same goal of global population health.

So while these processes are not yet final, America remains engaged — because having a seat at the table means having a hand in the outcome.

MORE ON THE ACCORD

Know the Facts

The accord process has been rife with disinformation — from the more conspiratorial claims that WHO is out to steal American sovereignty to simple misunderstandings about practical steps in the process. Here are a few common misconceptions about the pandemic accord.

  • On Sovereignty

    CLAIM: An accord will give WHO total authority in future public health emergencies, including allowing WHO to establish vaccine passports, regulate travel, require lockdowns, infringe on civil liberties, and interfere on matters of national sovereignty.

    FACT: Members of WHO are sovereign countries, and participation in any instrument is voluntary. The terms of an agreement will be decided by those countries through a long, collaborative negotiation process, not by WHO.

  • On Policing

    CLAIM: WHO is seeking “police power” to enforce the terms of any new pandemic instrument.

    FACT: Any notion of a WHO-led force to ensure compliance would fall outside of the scope of the organization’s mandate and constitution.

  • On International Health Regulations

    CLAIM: Isn’t a pandemic accord just another version of International Health Regulations?

    FACT: Many conversations about the pandemic accord raise the topic of something called International Health Regulations (IHR).

    Since 1969, the IHR — adopted by the World Health Assembly, the governing body of WHO — has served as essential, legally-binding guidance for its 196 signatories on detecting and reporting public health emergencies. Because it’s regularly reviewed and updated, some groups have shared concerns that a parallel pandemic accord process could contradict, undermine, or duplicate the IHR.

    It’s important to note that the process of updating the IHR is happening concurrently with the process of developing a more specific protocol for pandemic preparedness and response. Together, these agreements will offer a continuum of multilateral and country-based action to prepare for, identify, and prevent future pathogens that threaten humanity. So rather than compete with each other, both resources will reinforce the guidance of the other to ensure that countries are benefitting from the very best thinking and latest guidance.

Stay Informed

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More on the World Health Organization

With a mandate to advance global population health, WHO’s reach is far, wide, and effective. Thanks to the WHO – which benefits from strong American support – countries have more capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to health threats than ever before. In a globalized world, this enhances the health security of Americans and strengthens U.S. economic relationships around the globe.

Click on the topics here to learn about the world’s largest global health body.

  • Technical Assistance

    With a presence in more than 150 countries and the trust of governments around the world, WHO is uniquely positioned to both collect new evidence emerging from anywhere in the world and use it to develop, refine, and disseminate technical and normative guidance essential to battling COVID-19 and a suite of other diseases.

    In fact, from the outset of COVID-19, WHO emphasized the primacy of testing, isolation, and contact tracing, as well as distributing million of tests, which research shows was essential to reducing mortality.

  • Clinical Trials

    WHO is the only agency in the world capable of coordinating unprecedented global trials on therapeutics and vaccines, including the groundbreaking scope of the Solidarity Trial, with more than 100 countries participating. As important, the Solidarity Trial will reduce the amount of time it takes for a drug trial to determine effectiveness by 80%.

  • Health Communications

    WHO is the only organization with the technical expertise and capacity, global membership, credibility, access, and trust to launch pandemic and disease awareness campaigns throughout the world. Billions of people have access to WHO’s evidence-based information in dozens of languages.

  • Health Supplies

    At least 133 countries rely on WHO to globally procure millions of pieces of personal protective equipment and other vital health commodities like tests and testing supplies, including more than 4.5 million items of vital PPE.

  • Health Equity and Access

    WHO is working to preposition manufacturing capacity and distribution channels to ensure less resourced countries and vulnerable populations have access to vaccines and treatments as quickly as possible and at a fair price.

  • Health Engagement

    WHO has a particularly important role to play in helping poorer countries fight disease and epidemics. Out-of-control outbreaks in the developing world threaten the U.S. and could spark multiple waves of disease.

  • Partnerships

    Global partnerships and U.S. leadership within WHO ensure that nations cannot simply go it alone to advance policies that are inconsistent with U.S. interests or global health. U.S. leadership has also facilitated dialogue and collaboration between WHO and U.S. civil society and the private sector, making sure a range of American perspectives are taken into account in setting global health policies.

  • Trends

    WHO has consistently stated its readiness to support independent investigations — including into the origins of COVID-19 and the agency’s global health response — in an effort to learn more and improve the organization’s role in future health emergencies. As a member organization, the World Health Assembly is the appropriate forum to raise resolutions that guide the actions of the health body based on the consensus of the group.

  • Prevention

    The world — and the U.S. — needs WHO to keep disease at bay. Without WHO, the world would experience a surge in polio cases. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is embedded in WHO and has decreased the number of wild poliovirus cases by 99.9% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases to just 176 in 2019. WHO leads monitoring, immunization, and technical support, and is able to reach remote areas in countries where polio still exists.

    Moreover, the world would compromise the global infectious disease early warning system. Early detection allows countries to stop disease outbreaks at their source before they spread farther and become deadlier and more expensive to contain.

    The U.S. would also lose access to influenza data that protects Americans. Since 2004, the U.S. has helped build a global network of WHO flu centers, buying lab equipment, and training scientists. The centers, located in more than 100 countries, collect samples from sick people, isolate viruses, and search for new viruses that could cause an epidemic or pandemic. The CDC houses one of five WHO Collaborating Centers that collect these virus samples, while the FDA runs one of the four WHO regulatory labs that help vaccine makers determine the correct amount of antigen, which triggers the immune response, to include in vaccines.

Connect

Want to learn more or plug into other global health partnerships and programs?

contact the BWC Global Health Team