As 194 nations continue to work through drafts of pandemic agreements that would grant more authority to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), a body convened by the WHO, has called for a worldwide pandemic simulation to be carried out by the end of this year to test the effectiveness of the new terms before member nations sign them in 2024.
“We feel very strongly that we cannot wait for the next emergency to find out how well the pandemic accord and the IHR amendments will work; we need to know now,” Joy Phumaphi, co-chair of the GPMB, stated on May 22. “We therefore suggest that Member States, together with other key stakeholders, carry out a simulation exercise based on the draft accord and draft IHR amendments later this year, before they are finalized and adopted.”
International negotiations to centralize pandemic-related action within the WHO have been ongoing throughout this spring. They include a “zero draft” WHO pandemic accord and amendments to International Health Regulations (IHRs), as well as discussions among various WHO subcommittees, U.N. organizations, and finance arms like the World Bank. The current round of negotiations on the pandemic accord and IHR amendments have gone on behind closed doors in Geneva, but statements from some of the ancillary groups like the GPMB may shed light on the tone of the discussions.
Phumaphi said that the GPMB’s “Manifesto for Preparedness” includes three “tests” for the treaty and IHR amendments. These are whether the treaty and IHR amendments are “sufficiently powerful,” whether they “deliver equity and coherence,” and whether they “have robust mechanisms for monitoring and accountability.”
Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto is currently negotiating terms of the WHO pandemic accord on behalf of the United States. While the language of the accord and IHR revisions is often opaque and bureaucratic, analysts say the ultimate goal of the reforms is to vest more pandemic authority within the WHO and have this authority extend beyond pandemic emergencies.
“The trajectory is about centralizing power over health emergencies,” David Bell, a public health physician and former WHO staffer specializing in epidemic policy, told The Epoch Times. “It will centralize authority within the WHO, particularly in the director general, and it will broaden the scope to what they call One Health.”
Negotiations Proceed in Secret
In April, delegates from the United States agreed with a Chinese proposal that new IHR drafts would not be shared with the public. Hamamoto stated that “at this stage, I have some concern about sharing the draft to all stakeholders given where we are in the process.”
In response, several nonprofit organizations and health experts wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Antony Blinken protesting the secrecy of the negotiations.
“The attempt to create a veil of secrecy now surrounding the substantive and technical text-based negotiations on the WHO pandemic treaty sets a dangerous precedent for norm-setting at the multilateral level,” they wrote. “It also undermines trust in the process at a time when attacks on the WHO and on the pandemic accord are increasing.”
The GPMB’s Manifesto for Preparedness states that “the success of these reforms will largely be dependent on the adoption of a coordinated, One Health approach to PPPR that involves all countries, international and regional organizations, financial institutions, and the private sector.”
PPPR is the WHO acronym for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. “One Health” refers to the broadening of pandemic response to potentially include things like farming, poverty, and climate change, which could either cause or exacerbate outbreaks, or impair peoples’ health in other ways.
“One Health is anything in the biosphere that affects human well-being in its current definition,” Bell said. Current terms being negotiated, he said, would not only broaden the scope of the WHO’s mandate but would also grant it authority to act when a pandemic “threat” is perceived, as opposed to an actual pandemic emergency.
“They are already putting in place a very broad surveillance mechanism,” Bell said. “They’re talking about two and a half billion dollars a year, which is three times the WHO budget just to run this. And this will look for any threats such as viral variant, which is [part of] nature, I mean, these happen all the time. Then they’ll be able to say essentially, that these are potential threats, therefore we need to lock down a population.”
The latest publicly available draft of the WHO pandemic accord includes the terms “One Health approach” and “One Health surveillance,” but to date the definition of those terms has been left blank. However, the “zero draft” states that One Health encompasses “the interconnection between people, animals, plants and their shared environment, for which a coherent, integrated and unifying approach should be strengthened and applied with an aim to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals, and ecosystems.”
According to the GPMB’s Manifesto for Preparedness, the WHO must be “empowered with the responsibility, authority and accountability to fulfill its leadership role at the center of health emergency preparedness.” Among the top priorities, the manifesto stated, is that “access to medical countermeasures is based on need; resources, information and data are accessible to all; priorities are driven by the needs of people and communities and address gender equity.”
The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board was established in 2018 by the WHO and the World Bank, and is tasked with monitoring the world’s preparedness to respond to pandemics. It is “comprised of globally recognized leaders and experts from a wide range of sectors, including global health, veterinary epidemiology, environment, human rights, economics, law, gender, and development.”
In its first report in September 2019, the GPMB predicted a respiratory pandemic that would cause millions of deaths and immense damage to the world economy.
“The world is at acute risk for devastating regional or global disease epidemics or pandemics that not only cause loss of life but upend economies and create social chaos,” the 2019 report stated. Later that year, in December 2019, a local scientist identified a mysterious pneumonia-like illness in Wuhan, China. Four months later, in March 2020, the WHO declared a pandemic from what is now known as COVID-19.
Phumaphi, a former Minister of Health of Botswana, was the interim co-CEO of the Clinton Health Access Initiative before becoming co-chair of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board in September 2022. In announcing the new leadership, the GPMB stated: “With negotiations underway to create new global health emergency governance structures, including the Pandemic Treaty and newly established Financial Intermediary Fund, the GPMB has emphasized the need for a robust independent monitoring mechanism to shine a light on key gaps in preparedness within the global health architecture.”