Two years of intense negotiations aimed at forging a landmark global agreement to handle future pandemics have yet to yield a consensus. As the world grapples with the devastating aftermath of COVID-19, which inflicted substantial human and economic losses, countries are striving to craft an international accord that addresses pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response comprehensively. However, despite shared principles on handling future pandemics, the talks have encountered significant hurdles in translating these principles into binding commitments.

Urgent Call for Action

The urgency of reaching a global agreement has been underscored by a high-powered intervention from a coalition of over 100 global leaders. This group includes 23 former national Presidents, 22 former Prime Ministers, a former UN General Secretary, and 3 Nobel Laureates. Their joint open letter calls for urgent action from international negotiators to finalize a Pandemic Accord, as mandated by the World Health Organization’s constitution. The goal is to enhance collective preparedness and response to future pandemics, preventing a repeat of the catastrophic impact witnessed during the COVID-19 crisis. Only once before in the organisation’s 75-year history has the WHO managed to agree such an accord, and that was a Tobacco Control treaty in 2003.

Key Leaders Emphasize Importance

Leaders across nationalities have emphasized the critical importance of a pandemic accord in safeguarding global health and stability. They highlight the immense benefits such an agreement would offer, including improved pathogen detection, information sharing, equitable access to lifesaving tools like tests, treatments, and vaccines, and effective collaboration between public and private sectors.

Recent Round of Negotiations

Despite these urgent calls, the recent round of negotiations concluded without a breakthrough. The World Health Organization expressed hope for a final agreement by the end of May but acknowledged the challenges in reaching consensus. The talks, originally intended to conclude in April, will now extend into May for a final push towards a binding treaty.

Complexities in Negotiations

The negotiations have been fraught with complexities, primarily revolving around the balance of obligations between wealthier and poorer nations. Wealthier states advocate for immediate pathogen data sharing and robust preparedness measures for all countries, while developing nations push for equitable access to technologies and resources, emphasizing technology transfer and fair vaccine distribution.

Points of Contention

The main points of contention include shared access to emerging pathogens, better disease outbreak monitoring, reliable financing mechanisms, and technology transfer to less affluent countries. These issues have led to a ballooning of the draft text from 30 to nearly 100 pages, with ongoing debates over the level of detail and breadth of the accord.

Concerns and Optimism

Concerns have been raised about the potential dilution of the treaty’s impact if rushed to meet the May deadline. Campaign groups warn against a watered-down text that fails to address critical issues effectively. Despite the challenges, there is optimism that a lighter, more concise document could be achieved, albeit with the potential for future additions and refinements.

A Timeline of Challenges

  • Member states have till May 2024 to reach an agreement on the accord, with negotiations focusing on issues like finance, access to medicines and vaccines, technology transfer, and One Health approaches.
  • The negotiations have seen modest progress but are hindered by divisions between developed and developing countries.
  • Key issues discussed include parallel negotiations with existing WHO regulations, turning the accord into a regulation, and sharing pathogen genetic sequence data (GSD) with fair compensation.
  • The Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) meetings in 2023 addressed topics like Research & Development (R&D), Access and Benefit-Sharing, Global Supply Chain, One Health approaches, and technology transfer.
  • The spotlight shifted to a High-Level Meeting on Pandemic Preparedness and Response at the United Nations General Assembly, resulting in a non-binding political declaration criticized for its lack of concrete commitments.
  • The Bureau unveiled a negotiating text for the WHO Pandemic Agreement, facing criticisms from developing countries over burdensome prevention measures and weak provisions for equitable access to products.
  • INB 7 meetings resulted in a lengthy “rolling text” with no significant progress, raising concerns about the effectiveness of the negotiation process.
  • Challenges ahead include the process’s effectiveness, limited time for negotiations, and uncertainty about member states’ commitment amidst other global issues and upcoming elections.

Political Landscape

The political landscape adds another layer of complexity to the negotiations. Concerns about national sovereignty have contributed to the challenging environment. The need for global solidarity and cooperation has never been more evident, yet achieving consensus among 194 nations remains a formidable task.

Path Forward

As negotiations enter their final stages, the focus is on bridging the gap between divergent viewpoints and ensuring that the accord delivers meaningful outcomes. Access to critical resources, effective response mechanisms, and a commitment to equity and solidarity are paramount. The stakes are high, with the global community counting on leaders to rise above political differences and prioritize collective well-being.

How to Save the Pandemic Treaty

When the latest round of negotiations opened on March 18, it was clear that a key lesson of the Covid-19 pandemic was being ignored: Public health and the health of the economy are interdependent.

Achieving both requires rewriting the rules of how health and well-being are valued, produced, and distributed — and how economies are governed. The treaty’s success will depend on member states’ willingness to hardwire equity into its terms. And that, in turn, will require a new economic paradigm.

The World Health Organization Council on the Economics of Health for All recommends that negotiators from all countries must remain focused on the overarching goal of preventing future health threats from becoming catastrophic. That means designing the terms of the treaty, including those related to innovation, intellectual property (IP), public-private collaboration, and funding, to be mission-oriented. Equity must be the top priority, because every economy suffers in a pandemic if tests, vaccines, and lifesaving therapeutics are not accessible to all.

Moreover, how innovation and knowledge are governed is as critical as the innovation itself. Governments have powerful levers for determining who benefits from innovation. They are major funders of everything from early-stage research and development to product development and manufacturing.  Stronger conditions on private-sector access to public funding would help to ensure equitable and affordable access to the resulting products, as well as facilitating profit sharing and reinvestment in productive activities like R&D.


The current geopolitical climate, coupled with the ongoing pandemic challenges, underscores the imperative for decisive action. A successful global pandemic accord would not only protect lives and livelihoods but also reaffirm the power of international cooperation in addressing existential threats. The coming weeks will be critical in determining the fate of this historic agreement and shaping the world’s response to future pandemics.










Share This