The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the need for a strengthened international treaty on global health that counts with an empowered WHO and guarantees the sharing of information on potential outbreaks whenever they occur. Club de Madrid and the Panel For a Global Public Health Convention have transmitted this petition to Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, and President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, in an open letter ahead of the Global Health Summit to be held in Rome on 21 May 2021.
“Existing global public health instruments and institutions need to be significantly bolstered through incentives and mechanisms to ensure timely co-operation, transparency, accountability, and above all, compliance by all States”, write Club de Madrid President, Danilo Türk and Dame Barbara Stocking, Chair of the Panel for a Global Public Health Convention, the letter’s signatories.
The open letter also notes that the existing global framework to respond and report on health emergencies -the International Health Regulations- lacks essential compliance mechanisms. This, in addition to the devastating effects of COVID-19, have once more rung the alarm bell on the need to reform our global public health system.
After outbreaks such as SARS in East Asia, Ebola in West and Central Africa, and Zika in Latin America, discussions in the framework of the United Nations and among civil society organisations and academia failed to translate into political will or any meaningful reform. Recently, the Independent Panel on Pandemic, Prevention, Preparedness, co-chaired by Club de Madrid Members Helen Clark (former Prime Minister of New Zealand) and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (former President from Liberia), released a report stating that the COVID-19 disaster could have been avoided if the WHO had been granted with more authority.
A new treaty on international health should have a compelling set of incentives and deterrents promoting compliance and observance of its provisions. In the framework of the treaty, governments should act with transparency: this would guarantee that viral outbreaks are declared whenever they occur and that countries provide accurate, regular and timely data on all infectious diseases.
Provisions in the treaty should also ensure an independent validation of epidemiological data and monitor compliance with agreed prevention, preparedness, detection, and response measures. In the framework of a new treaty, the WHO should be granted new powers to assess and validate outbreaks with the potential to evolve into a pandemic.
Club de Madrid joins a chorus of voices that are demanding a new international treaty on health. One is the report by the Independent Panel on Pandemic, Prevention, Preparedness concluded that the current system could not protect people from COVID-19 and the WHO is, therefore, in need of an overhaul.
Another is the voice of 25 world leaders, who called on all countries to agree to a treaty for pandemic preparedness and response in March this year.