WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the public hearing regarding a new international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response

Dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to all of you, and thank you for joining us today for this very important discussion.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe health crisis in a century.

More than 6 million lives have been lost, countless livelihoods destroyed, health systems disrupted, already-vulnerable people pushed into poverty, and the global economy plunged into its deepest recession since the Second World War.

And although we are now seeing a welcome decline in reported deaths, the pandemic is still far from over.

Transmission remains high, vaccine coverage remains too low in too many countries, and the relaxation of public health and social measures is creating the conditions for new variants to spread.

Our focus must remain on ending the pandemic – in particular, by supporting all countries to vaccinate 70% of their population, with priority on the most at-risk groups.

But even as we work to end this pandemic, we owe it to those who have died, and those who have been affected, to learn the painful lessons the pandemic is teaching us, and make the changes we must make to make sure the world is better prepared for the next pandemic.

The fact is, COVID-19 has exposed serious gaps in the global health security architecture.

The inequities that we have faced in the past two years – for therapeutics, diagnostics, and vaccines – have undermined our efforts to bring COVID-19 under control.

For instance, even as some high-income countries now roll out fourth doses of vaccine for their populations, one third of the world’s population is yet to receive a single dose, including 83% of the population of Africa.

My friends, shared threats demand a shared response. Or as the title of the World Health Assembly decision says, “A World Together.”

And yet the pandemic has been marked by a patchwork of different and sometimes contradictory responses, causing confusion, division, inequity and stigmatization.

Underpinning this chaotic picture is a governance that is complex and fragmented.

The International Health Regulations provide a vital legal framework for responding to the global spread of disease.

But the pandemic has exposed shortcomings in the application and implementation of the IHR that I believe are best addressed with a convention, agreement or other international instrument.

We have treaties and other international instruments against tobacco, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, climate change and many other threats to our shared security and well-being.

As you know, in December the World Health Assembly made the historic decision to negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

This agreement, I hope, will be a generational agreement. It could be a gamechanger.

An Intergovernmental Negotiating Body – an INB – has now been established and has begun its work. Its outcome is to be submitted to the World Health Assembly in 2024.

It includes countries from all regions and all income levels, and is chaired by Dr Precious Matsoso of South Africa and by Dr Roland Driece of the Netherlands, with vice chairs from Brazil, Egypt, Japan and Thailand.

Under their leadership, the INB is operating based on the principles of inclusiveness, transparency, efficiency and consensus.

As part of its decision in December, the World Health Assembly asked me to hold public hearings to inform the INB’s deliberations.

Public participation is crucial to that effort.

Our Constitution says, “Informed opinion and active co-operation on the part of the public are of the utmost importance in the improvement of the health of the people.”

We are very pleased to have a wide range of participants today, from civil society, the private sector, independent experts, as well as philanthropic, academic and international organizations.

We are starting with the basics. Today’s guiding question is:

What substantive elements do you think should be included in a new international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response?

I repeat: What substantive elements do you think should be included in a new international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response?

We look forward to hearing from you. The success of the future instrument depends on it.

Ultimately, whatever instrument comes, this process will affect everyone. So, it’s vital that we get the widest possible range of inputs.

Thank you all for your engagement at this historic moment.

I hope the legacy of this meeting, of the negotiating process and the pandemic itself is a healthier, safer, fairer world for generations to come – a world together.

And thank you for joining the work on this generational agreement, which we believe is a game changer. I thank you.

Source: World Health Organization