PRET: WHO launches initiative to make world better prepared for future pandemics

The current focus of the initiative is on respiratory viruses but will soon include other groups of pathogens

By Taran Deol
Published: Thursday 27 April 2023
Photo: iStock

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a new initiative to be better prepared for future outbreaks of a similar scale and devastation as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Preparedness and Resilience for Emerging Threats (PRET) Initiative is aimed at providing “guidance on integrated planning for responding to any respiratory pathogen such as influenza or coronaviruses”.

“Preparedness, prevention and response activities must not be the province of the health sector alone,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. “Just as health emergencies have impacts across many sectors, so must our preparedness and response efforts span sectors, disciplines and pathogens. It is critical, too, that community engagement and equity are the centre of our efforts, especially for those populations that are marginalised and most at risk.”

While the current focus of PRET will be on respiratory viruses — in the backdrop of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, possible threat of an avian influenza outbreak — work is already underway to assess what should be the next group of pathogens to be mitigated under this initiative. The initiative was announced at the Global Meeting for Future Respiratory Pathogen Pandemics held on 24-26 April 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The PRET monitoring framework, which is expected to be outlined soon, lists a host of actions which countries will be expected to work on with progress being achieved by December 2025. 

The three-pronged approach includes updating preparedness plans that affirm priority actions, increase connectivity among stakeholders in pandemic preparedness planning through systematic coordination and cooperation and dedicate sustained investments, financing and monitoring of pandemic preparedness with a special focus on bridging the lacunes highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The PRET Initiative ushers in a new era for pandemic preparedness and represents an evolution of WHO’s core activities to support all member states in strengthening health emergency preparedness, prevention, and response capacities and capabilities. The initiative can also serve to operationalize the objectives and provisions of the Pandemic Accord, which is currently being negotiated by WHO Member States,” the global health body noted. 

Discussions are also underway to make amendments to the International Health Regulations with the Working Group wrapping up its third meeting last week. Amendments related to amendments related to compliance, implementation, and public health response were discussed in the closed-door meetings.

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