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A Must-Have Global Pandemic Treaty

Context

  • A draught international pandemic treaty governing pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response will be ready for negotiation by 2024, according to Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist.
  • The document will aid in addressing global public health challenges highlighted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The draft’s vision is to protect against pandemic consequences through “equity, human rights, and solidarity.”

Relevance

GS Paper 2: Issues related to Health.

Mains Question

Examine WHO’s role in providing global health security during the COVID-19 Pandemic. (250 Words)


Background

  • Once-in-a-century crises: COVID-19 is among the most severe pandemics the world has seen in the last 100 years.
  • Deaths: An estimated 18 million people may have died as a result of COVID-19.
  • Global calamity: With over 120 million people pushed into extreme poverty and a massive global recession, no single government or institution has been able to address this emergency on its own. It provided a broader perspective on how no one is safe until everyone is safe.
  • New pandemic crises: The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the monkey pox outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) with over 32,000 cases from over 80 countries (August 2022), putting the world at risk of another health crisis.

Treaty on Pandemic Influenza

  • Persistent inequality: When world leaders pledged €7.4 billion ($8.07 billion) in a digital fundraiser for the development of a coronavirus vaccine and treatments, the US did not send a representative. As a result, inequality has also contributed to the pandemic’s extension.
  • Delayed response: Even six to eight weeks after the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), countries, with the exception of Asia, did not take the necessary precautions.
  • Global Pandemic Treaty: With global governance failing during the pandemic and International Health Regulations failing to prevent large-scale pandemics and mount effective preparedness and response, political commitment was required to mitigate future challenges. As a result, the Global Pandemic Treaty was proposed at the World Health Assembly Special Session (WHASS) in December 2021.

Concerning International Health Regulations (IHR)

  • The IHR are an international legal instrument that is legally binding on 196 countries. They provide an overarching legal framework that defines countries’ rights and obligations in dealing with public health events and emergencies that have the potential to cross borders.

Health inequity is widespread

  • Scope: Health-care systems have been stretched beyond their capacity, resulting in gross health inequity in the distribution of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics around the world.
    • As of March 2022, only 3% of people in low-income countries had received at least one dose of vaccination, compared to 60.18% in high-income countries.
    • The international target of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against COVID-19 by mid-2022 was missed because poorer countries were “last in line” when vaccines were distributed.
  • Socioeconomic effects: While high-income economies are still recovering from the aftereffects of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the socioeconomic consequences of the novel coronavirus pandemic are irreversible in low and low-middle-income countries.
  • Pharma monopolies have created at least nine new billionaires since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with profits exceeding $1,000 per second, despite the fact that fewer of their vaccines have reached people in low-income countries.

India’s leadership role

  • Setting an example: India’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and restoration of global equity by leveraging its own potential has set an example for legislators all over the world.
    • India was unwavering in its determination to continue shipments of vaccines and other diagnostics even as it faced a vaccine shortage for domestic use.
  • Vaccine diplomacy: India produces nearly 60% of the world’s vaccines and is said to account for 60%-80% of the United Nations’ annual vaccine procurement, i.e. “vaccine diplomacy” or “vaccine maitri” with a commitment to health equity.
  • Global cooperation: As of 2021, India had shipped 594.35 lakh doses of ‘Made in India’ COVID-19 vaccine to 72 countries, exemplifying global cooperation.
    • Of these, 81.25 lakh doses were given as gifts, 339.67 lakh doses were distributed commercially, and 173.43 lakh doses were delivered through the Covax programme run by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi).
  • Global leadership: The protracted battle with pharmaceutical companies over vaccine patents, particularly in African countries, slowed the global vaccination drive.
    • However, India stood out as a global leader, proposing to the World Trade Organization in October 2020 to allow all countries to choose not to grant or enforce patents and other intellectual property related to COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, and other technologies for the duration of the pandemic, until global herd immunity is achieved.
    • Despite opposition from some of the world’s leading countries, the World Trade Organization (WTO) finally decided in June 2022 to water down (weaken) intellectual property restrictions in the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines.

Lessons learned, road ahead

  • Umbrella treaty: During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were numerous initiatives, such as the Vaccine Alliance, to address the pandemic and do better in the future. A treaty under the auspices of WHO, on the other hand, would promote coherence and avoid fragmentation.
  • Characteristics: A treaty of this type should address critical issues such as data sharing and genome sequencing of emerging viruses. It should formally commit governments and legislatures to putting in place an early warning system and a properly funded rapid response system.
  • Closing gaps: A treaty of this type should mobilise nation states to agree on a set of common metrics related to health investments and the return on those investments. These investments should aim to close the gap between the public and private sectors.
  • Addressing inequalities: Finally, a global pandemic treaty will not only reduce socioeconomic disparities between nations, but will also improve global pandemic preparedness for future health emergencies. In this regard, India must take the lead.

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September 2022
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