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Empowering the Pandemic Accord

Gordon Brown

February 25, 2024

6 MIN READ

Empowering the Pandemic Accord

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us several lessons, many of which came at great cost.

Chief among them was that, despite years of rehearsals, the world was not prepared for a fast-moving outbreak of a novel infectious disease.

Countries failed their own citizens, but the global response was even more inadequate.

It was marked by an inexcusable absence of cooperation and coordination, ugly nationalism that included vaccine hoarding, and greed on the part of Western countries, which refused to share information, pathogens, and therapeutics.

I would say that the response was – to use a word that may seem old-fashioned and out of favor in some quarters – sinful.

The overwhelming lesson we learned the hard way is that no one is safe anywhere until everyone is safe everywhere.

Could the wave of infections caused by the second Omicron variant have been avoided if the Global South had been vaccinated more quickly?

We cannot be sure. But we do know that international cooperation is not compatible with nationalism, xenophobia, and new forms of colonialism.

National governments themselves have proposed and are negotiating the Pandemic Accord, and they alone – not the WHO – will be responsible for its requirements and, ultimately, for its success or failure.

We need a form of globalization that works for everyone, because while our world may be deeply fractured, we are all still inescapably interdependent.

In response to our collective failures, the World Health Organization’s member states decided to negotiate a Pandemic Accord, an international legal instrument that would provide a global framework to ensure equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

You could call it a pandemic nonproliferation accord, an agreement to help each other and work together in the event of a new public-health catastrophe.

But if countries embrace a spirit of global collaboration, they can devise creative solutions that balance intellectual-property rights, incentives, and the flexibilities in TRIPS, the World Trade Organization’s intellectual-property agreement.

Unfortunately, this global effort is being threatened by a torrent of misinformation and disinformation, blatant lies, and percolating conspiracy theories.

Among the falsehoods are that the WHO would be empowered to strip member states of sovereignty, deploy armed troops to enforce mandatory vaccinations and lockdowns, and monitor people’s movements through digital passports. All these claims are wholly untrue.

National governments themselves have proposed and are negotiating the Pandemic Accord, and they alone – not the WHO – will be responsible for its requirements and, ultimately, for its success or failure.

We must not underestimate the importance of the Accord, which represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the world we live in, especially for young people and future generations.

Young people, in particular, suffered greatly during the pandemic: their education was disrupted, their lives turned upside down, and their prospects diminished.

And, given the endurance of the collateral effects of COVID-19 and its control measures, especially their adverse impact on mental health, young people have a right to expect that their future will be protected.

But the clock is ticking. Countries must act now to meet the self-imposed deadline of May 2024, when they are expected to present an agreement to the 77th World Health Assembly (the WHO’s decision-making body).

They must not squander the opportunity to adopt a global pact that will protect future generations from a repeat of the devastation wrought by COVID-19.

Establishing an effective model of open and inclusive health multilateralism will deliver the crucial message that cross-border cooperation can deliver global solutions to global problems.

The unprecedented nature of the pandemic requires an unprecedented response.

Some of the current sticking points in the Pandemic Accord are related to intellectual property.

But if countries embrace a spirit of global collaboration, they can devise creative solutions that balance intellectual-property rights, incentives, and the flexibilities in TRIPS, the World Trade Organization’s intellectual-property agreement.

Compromise on this issue and others requires recognizing that the private and public sectors must work together in the fight against infectious diseases.

But above all, security, equity, and equal access to information, technology, and products must be at the heart of the Accord.

People all around the world are desperate for hope. They want assurance that the future will be better than the past.

Countries must recognize that adopting a give-and-take approach during the final negotiations is critical to reaching an agreement on the Pandemic Accord, which in turn could provide some much-needed optimism.

We must demonstrate through our deeds as well as our words that we live in a deeply interconnected world in which we share each other’s burdens, even when times are difficult.

Establishing an effective model of open and inclusive health multilateralism will deliver the crucial message that cross-border cooperation can deliver global solutions to global problems.

(Gordon Brown, a former prime minister of the United Kingdom, is UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of Education Cannot Wait)

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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