At a special session of the World Health Assembly on December 1, 2021, world leaders committed to a formal negotiation process establishing a new international pandemic agreement. But what does this really mean in the context of the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan, which plans to strengthen health resilience? As we seek to lead international negotiations on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, we believe a new seat for civil society is needed at the negotiating table.
In the context of a fractured global health system, consultations with civil society and “rebuilding trust through inclusion” are key factors in any new international agreement, experts and politicians agreed at a a webinar hosted by the Gastein European Health Forum and AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Europe on January 25, 2022. Yet many questions and challenges remain around the process of concluding such an agreement, including how trust – within and between nations, key stakeholders and the public – can be rebuilt along the way.
Leading by example and being supportive of others, especially in times of crisis, is crucial. Without civil society, it will be very difficult to reach agreement and a common understanding. The WHO Special Envoy on COVID, Dr Ayoade Alakija reiterated my point by emphasizing the importance of looking beyond COVID-19 to see global injustice in areas of health, socio-economics, education and more. “We cannot build a [global health] dealt with if we don’t speak up and include those around the table who have had the experience.
“The European Parliament and members of civil society such as AHF Europe are ready to contribute to better global health management for the world”
How to build a set of rules?
WHO’s timeline for reaching an international agreement – with a landmark for adoption in May 2024 – was presented by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs’ Global Health Ambassador, Stéphanie Seydoux. Understanding the [ongoing] establishment of an intergovernmental negotiating body (INB), four months of “broad public consultation” between March and June 2022, a preliminary draft in August 2022 and a progress report in May 2023 — the elephant in the part left: What will be the process of including stakeholders beyond nation states?
“There is a general feeling that [public consultation with essential stakeholders] is a condition of success for this instrument. But we will have to sit down with the INB to find the right way to do it [the public consultations]“said Seydoux.
Citing the failure of world leaders to act with urgency and determination in the past two years of the pandemic, AHF President Michael Weinstein said he was not optimistic about the plan. “Everybody nods to civil society, but nobody really includes it. If we build a building on the foundations of the current [WHO] architecture, it will fall. Instead, a stronger focus on coordination and “elevating global public health and disease prevention to the level of air traffic control” [i.e. one set of rules for the whole world] is necessary, according to Weinstein. He also reiterated that the response to HIV/AIDS was more successful after the 2000s thanks to the voices of civil society and “the fight against the exclusion of intellectual property”.
The panel of a webinar organized by the Gastein European Health Forum and AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Europe on January 25, 2022 | Source: AHF Europe
This is a “once in 100 year opportunity” to come together and change global systems urgently, according to Dr Alakija, who suggests it’s time to straddle the lines between “activist” and “government”. “. Seydoux agreed, saying, “We have to cross those lines. […] France demands attention to community-led responses and advocates for the diversity of what is happening in a country, as much as possible. In addition, the French EU Presidency intends to seize the opportunity to strengthen regional dialogue and the EU’s leadership role in creating a global health response, during the EU-AU Summit on 17 and 18 February.
The European Parliament and members of civil society such as AHF Europe are ready to contribute to better global health management for the world. We also recognize that now is the time to act rather than talk. We must break down divisions within the health community and strive for transparent, inclusive and accountable mechanisms, as stronger international rules are needed to address global health.
This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or the Dods Group