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 sources. “It will centralize authority within the WHO, particularly in the director general, and it will broaden the scope to what they call One Health.”
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 concerns about sharing the draft with 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.