Adopting Landmark Declaration, General Assembly Calls for Strengthening High-level International Coordination to Improve Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, Response
Member States Commit to Ensure Timely, Equitable Access to Treatment
World leaders adopted a political declaration today calling for stronger international collaboration and coordination at the highest political levels to better prevent, prepare for and respond to pandemics, as the General Assembly held its first ever high-level meeting on the subject.
In the wide-ranging document, the Assembly committed to work to make access to pandemic-related products — such as vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics — timely, sustainable and equitable, while calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to coordinate this with relevant partners.
Opening the day-long debate — convened under the theme “Making the world safer: Creating and maintaining political momentum and solidarity for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response” — Assembly President Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago) described the COVID-19 pandemic as “one of the most pressing global challenges of our time”, adding that its impact on economies and health systems would last for years to come. “The reality is that we simply lacked preparation and responsiveness,” he insisted, emphasizing the need to prepare for other pandemics.
Mr. Francis also noted that COVID-19 had revealed global inequalities, recalling that many developing countries, particularly the least developed, had not been able to care for their sick, organize work and education remotely, or revive their economies.
In the Political Declaration, Member States also expressed concern about “glaring inequalities” in access to vaccines against COVID-19, noting that in December 2022, 22 per cent of people in low-income countries were fully vaccinated compared with 75 per cent in high-income countries. They also point out that three years after the start of the pandemic, 84 per cent of States continue to report disruptions in at least one essential health service.
Concerned by the hoarding of vaccines in rich countries while the populations of poor ones are left behind, United Nations Under-Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed called for preventing such a situation by implementing the recommendations spelled out in the Political Declaration.
In that document, Member States call in particular for the promotion of equitable distribution of affordable and quality medicines and reaffirm the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which provides flexibilities for the protection of public health and promotes access to medicines for all, particularly for developing countries.
Member States also called for strengthening local and regional vaccines and medicine production, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, through technology transfer and cooperation with voluntary patent pools.
Ms. Mohammed also called for reform of the international financial architecture in order to alleviate the debt burden of developing countries, which prevents them from achieving universal health coverage. She called for long-term financing of at least $500 billion annually as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) recovery plan.
She also stressed the importance of fighting misinformation about vaccines, in particular through a code of conduct on digital platforms. Likewise, she proposed the creation of an emergency coordination platform to respond to complex international shocks. Member States could take up these two proposals and implement them at the Summit of the Future in September 2024, she suggested.
Describing the adoption of the Political Declaration as “historic”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged Member States to take urgent action to implement the commitments made in the document. He also urged them to reach a solid agreement by May 2024 with a view to drafting a WHO international instrument on prevention, preparedness and response to pandemics, as well as to amend the 2005 international health regulations.
World Bank Senior Managing Director Axel Van Trotsenburg welcomed the first anniversary of the pandemic fund, which received pledges from 133 countries worth $2 billion. Despite this “very good starting point”, Mr. Trotsenburg warned that $10 billion should be allocated to pandemic preparedness and called on Member States to provide the necessary resources.
“Spending billions will save trillions,” added the High-Level Champion for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response, Helen Clark. She called for a global financing system capable of immediately responding to pandemics. Stressing that vaccines, diagnostics and treatments should be considered “global common goods”, she pleaded for their availability within a pre-funded system.
“Viruses that can cause pandemics will not wait for diplomacy to produce results,” warned Ms. Clark. Agreements should be concluded as quickly as possible within the framework of the ongoing negotiations in Geneva. The high-level meeting also proposed the creation of a dedicated global coordination body. “Ingenuity and human solidarity can make COVID-19 the last pandemic to cause such devastation,” but all of it depends above all on the political choice of Member States, she stressed.
After this introductory segment, delegations continued their discussions in a plenary debate and two multi-stakeholder panels.