Pandemic treaty: Draft urges cooperation, equity, transparency but misses independent monitoring

Draft has evolved from a working document circulated earlier this year in July and builds on the comments made by member states, domain experts and the public

By Taran Deol
Published: Monday 21 November 2022
It also acknowledges the disproportionately heavy impact of the pandemic on frontline workers. Representative photo: iStock.

The Bureau of the International Negotiating Body (INB) came out with a conceptual zero draft of the pandemic treaty November 18, 2022.  It urges equity, transparency and cooperation but misses on independent monitoring.

The discussion on the draft will held in Decmeber. The treaty is due to be finalised in May 2024.

The document provides guidelines based on “equity, human rights and solidarity” to ensure universal health coverage and attain the highest standard of health for all. It envisions protecting future generations from potential pandemics.

The draft has several notable rules for countries, particularly in advocating for a more transparent system of how money is granted for research and development (R&D).

Article 8 of the draft — increase research and development capacities — argues in favour of disclosing information on public funding for R&D and calls on companies to share prices and contractual terms of pandemic products.

Also read: Global pandemic treaty: Soumya Swaminathan promises draft in 18 months

This section also seeks to foster information sharing, strengthen clinical research ecosystems and promote scientific and technical cooperation.

The draft seeks to deploy “measures to limit indemnity or confidentiality clauses in commercial pandemic response product contracts between countries and manufacturers.”

It seeks to take into account public financing in research and development. This was a big hurdle with Pfizer and Moderna, seeking indemnity against compensation costs in India.

Article 9 of the draft — fair, equitable and timely access and benefit-sharing — calls for “rapid, regular and timely sharing of pathogens, genetic sequence data.”

The draft has evolved from a working document circulated earlier this year in July and builds on the comments made by member states, domain experts and the public.

New additions to the document include the removal of any areas covered under the International Health Regulations to ensure the pandemic treaty is complementary and synergistic instead of overlapping or repetitive.

The draft also describes the World Health Organization’s role as a “directing and coordinating authority in global health and the leader of multilateral cooperation in global health governance.”

Also read: Global pandemic fund to open for investment proposals in November

The draft presents the idea of a governing body to ensure effective implementation. This details the Conference of the Parties (COP) as the supreme organ. It is followed by Officers of the Parties (OOP), responsible for the administrative functions and Enlarged Conference of the Parties (E-COP), which constitutes stakeholders.

The extensive preamble includes 44 points. Chief among them advocates for — international and regional cooperation, the need to shift away from the cycle of ‘panic and neglect’ and towards whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches.

It also acknowledges the disproportionately heavy impact of the pandemic on frontline workers and reiterates the Doha Declaration on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement and Public Health.

The misses

The overarching themes are equity; strengthening and sustaining capacities for pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery; coordination, collaboration and cooperation (including One Health); and financing, Nina Schwalbe — a public health professor at Columbia University — noted in her analysis.

There is still no clarity on the oversight mechanisms of the pandemic treaty. Article 12 of the draft — preparedness monitoring, simulation exercises and peer reviews — only mentions regular simulation exercises and peer reviews. The absence of an independent monitoring system is a red flag.

“Whatever its final content, the usefulness of the accord will depend on the extent to which state parties abide by their obligations,” noted a policy brief prepared by the United Nations University — International Institute for Global Health and Spark Street Advisors — a global health think tank.

The document, published this month, called for an “independent monitoring committee to monitor state parties’ compliance with and reporting on the pandemic accord by assessing the timeliness, completeness, and robustness of state reporting.”

This system has been designed following an analysis of how monitoring systems of other treaties function. These include the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Human Rights Treaty Bodies, the Independent Monitoring Board for Polio, the Independent Accountability Panel and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among others.

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