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Pandemic accord: Former heads of state and global health leaders plead for progress

BMJ 2024; 384 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.q254 (Published 30 January 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;384:q254
  1. Luke Taylor
  1. Bogota

More than 40 former heads of state and leading global health advocates have urged world leaders not to waste a unique opportunity to save millions of lives as negotiations stall on a new global pandemic accord.1

In an open letter, published four years after the World Health Organization declared covid-19 a global health emergency, the 40 influential figures warned that the world’s leaders were looking increasingly unlikely to agree on a new, legally binding agreement intended to prevent and prepare for a future pandemic.2

“Four years since it was declared a global emergency, covid-19 continues to add to the estimated 28.5 million excess deaths associated with the pandemic,” the letter said. “People and societies continue to suffer the long tail of its enormous social and economic toll. Overall, our world is facing a range of concurrent crises, including climate emergencies and deadly conflicts. Leaders have the power—and the responsibility—to ensure that another pandemic is not added to the burden.”

WHO’s 194 member states agreed in December 2021 to draw up a new international convention to ensure that the world would be prepared for future global health threats and to prevent the “catastrophic failure” seen during the covid pandemic.3 The goals of the agreement being negotiated in Geneva include ensuring that states share more information with one another on health threats, waiving intellectual property so that poorer nations can produce vaccines more quickly, and increasing funding for research and development.

Advocates say that the agreement could save millions of lives by guaranteeing new investment, strengthening the global healthcare workforce, and obligating nation states to take certain actions to prevent, detect, and react to future pathogens. However, the issue is being drowned out by a series of other developing crises around the world, say the letter’s authors, who include former finance ministers, health ministers, and presidents.

May deadline

“The world is already forgetting about the covid-19 pandemic,” said Mauricio Cardenas, former minister of finance for Colombia and member of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. “This is worrying because we are no better prepared now than before. A new agreement is essential to ensure standards, resources, commitments, and verification. And time is running out.”

The deadline for the new global accord is May 2024, but there are growing concerns that the agreement will not be drawn up in time or, if world leaders do get it over the line, that it will lack controversial elements that global health experts say are crucial in preventing another global health disaster. “There are worrying signs of stalemate on several issues which go to the heart of a transformative and equitable international system for pandemic preparedness and response,” said the letter.

The 40 signatories represent six organisations that came together for the first time to make this plea: the Elders, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, the Independent Panel, the Pandemic Action Network, the Panel for a Global Public Health Convention, and Spark Street Advisors. Among the notable signatories are Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand; Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and former WHO director general; and Laura Chinchilla Miranda, former president of Costa Rica.

The letter urged world leaders to make the international accord ambitious in its scope and to find a way to ensure that countries are made accountable. It singled out three pillars to ensure that the world is better prepared for possible future pandemics: equity, to ensure that the whole world has quick access to vaccines, tests, and medical resources; financing for better pandemic preparedness and response; and accountability, with an independent body ensuring that countries do not shirk the responsibilities stipulated in the accord.

The coalition said in their message to world leaders, “A new pandemic threat is inevitable. A new pandemic is not—if we act now. Implementation of an effective accord is vital to make covid-19 the last pandemic of such devastation. Do not miss this history-making opportunity.”

Footnotes

  • Clarification: We amended the title of this story on 31 January 2024 to include global health leaders as well as former heads of state.

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