Delivering the Pandemic Accord the World Needs

This article was originally published in Project Syndicate. You can read it here.


AUCKLAND/RIGA/LONDON – If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it is that no one is safe anywhere until everyone is safe everywhere, and that delivering global safety is possible only through collaboration. It was with this in mind that the World Health Organization’s 194 member countries decided in December 2021 to negotiate a convention, agreement, or other international instrument that would support pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response globally. With the deadline for those negotiations approaching fast – the “pandemic accord” is supposed to be delivered in time for the 77th World Health Assembly in May – it is worth considering what is at stake.

A pandemic accord is critical to safeguard our collective future. Only a strong global pact on pandemics can protect future generations from a repeat of the COVID-19 crisis, which led to millions of deaths and caused widespread social and economic devastation, owing not least to insufficient international collaboration.

But the global effort to deliver such an accord is being threatened by misinformation and disinformation. Among the falsehoods that have been circulating is the claim that the pandemic accord would enable the WHO to exert far-reaching authority over countries and their citizens during a public-health emergency.

Some allege, for example, that the WHO could require the adoption of digital vaccine passports that would enable it to monitor – and control – people’s movements. Others say that it would interfere in matters of national sovereignty. There are even some who worry that the WHO would deploy armed forces to enforce vaccination orders and lockdowns.

All of these claims are wholly false. For starters, the deployment of a WHO-led armed force to ensure compliance would fall well outside the organization’s mandate. Moreover, while the pandemic accord is a global pact, individual countries are spearheading it. Sovereign countries proposed it, are negotiating it, will determine what is in it, and will decide whether it succeeds or fails.

Countries are doing this not because of some dictum from the WHO – like the negotiations, participation in any instrument would be entirely voluntary – but because they need what the accord can and must offer. In fact, a pandemic accord would deliver vast and universally shared benefits, including greater capacity to detect new and dangerous pathogens, access to information about pathogens detected elsewhere in the world, and timely and equitable delivery of tests, treatments, vaccines, and other lifesaving tools.

As countries enter what should be the final stages of the negotiations, governments must work to refute and debunk false claims about the accord. At the same time, negotiators must ensure that the agreement lives up to its promise to prevent and mitigate pandemic-related risks. This requires, for example, provisions aimed at ensuring that when another pandemic threat does arise, all relevant responses – from reporting the identification of risky pathogens to delivering tools like tests and vaccines on an equitable basis – are implemented quickly and effectively. As the COVID-19 pandemic showed, collaboration between the public and private sectors focused on advancing the public good is also essential.

A new pandemic threat will emerge; there is no excuse not to be ready for it. It is thus imperative to build an effective, multisectoral, and multilateral approach to pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. Given the unpredictable nature of public-health risks, a global strategy must embody a spirit of openness and inclusiveness. There is no time to waste, which is why we are calling on all national leaders to redouble their efforts to complete the accord by the May deadline.

Beyond protecting countless lives and livelihoods, the timely delivery of a global pandemic accord would send a powerful message: even in our fractured and fragmented world, international cooperation can still deliver global solutions to global problems.


This commentary is signed by the following Members and Advisors of Club de Madrid:

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2007-2010)

Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008);

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of Latvia (1999-2007)

Carlos Alvarado, President of Costa Rica (2018-22);

Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile (2006-10);

Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands (2002-10);

Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations; 

Joyce Banda, President of Malawi (2012-14);

Kjell Magne Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway (1997-2000, 2001-05);

Kim Campbell, Prime Minister of Canada (1993);

Alfred Gusenbauer, Chancellor of Austria (2007-08);

Seung-Soo Han, Prime Minister of South Korea (2009-09);

Mehdi Jomaa, Prime Minister of Tunisia (2014-15);

Horst Köhler, President of Germany (2004-10);

Rexhep Meidani, President of Albania (1997-2002);

Mario Monti, Prime Minister of Italy (2011-13);

Francisco Sagasti, President of Peru (2020-21);

Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1997-99);

Juan Somavía, former Director of the International Labour Organization;

Micheline Calmy-Rey, former President of the Swiss Confederation;

Zlatko Lagumdzija, Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the UN, Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2001-02), and Deputy Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1993-96), (2012-15);

Maria Fernanda Espinosa, former President of the UN General Assembly;

Ivo Josipovic, President of Croatia (2010-15).