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Achieving a treaty for the next pandemic

We know that another pandemic (Disease X) is coming. But after over nine rounds of international negotiations over two years, global leaders are yet to agree on a shared international plan. The deadline is the World Health Organisation’s decision-making annual assembly on 27th May. 

The Pandemic Treaty is an opportunity for a shared plan for governments, institutions, corporations and organisations to learn from mistakes made during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It aims to address pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. The draft agreement includes clauses on adequate financing for pandemic preparedness, equitable access to medical countermeasures needed during pandemics and health workforce strengthening. 

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Body has said

“We cannot fail to reach an agreement at the next World Health Assembly to make the world healthier, fairer and safer from pandemics [...] we are committed to maximising the remaining negotiations to reach the result the entire world needs”.

However, large gaps remain in the draft agreement's key clauses relating to access and equity. 

While all 194 member states agree in principle to general commitments on equity and access, disputes remain on access to pathogens detected within countries, access to vaccines produced from that knowledge, and equitable distribution and production of tests, treatments and jabs.

The newest draft has chosen to focus on areas of common agreement leaving the contentious particulars to be discussed later. Over the next two years, further negotiations will be held to work out the practical aspects of the planned WHO Pathogen Access and Benefit-Sharing System. 

Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Amanda Gorely, has said “It was always our expectation that these intensive negotiations would result in a high-level agreement on which we could build and that its adoption would not be the end of the process, but the beginning.” Australia has played a key role in being a bridge between key power blocs. Whilst we have aligned ourselves with the Western bloc, Australia has made efforts with the Global South-aligned nations to build consensus and find common ground. 

It will be key that Australia continues this role, advocating for increased equitable access and distribution of key pandemic products and knowledge even after reaching an international agreement. 

Leaders know Disease X is coming, and there are lessons to be learnt from COVID-19 but the global community is struggling to agree on a plan, even as the deadline looms. 

Shailja Sharma is a 2024 Results Australia Global Health Fellow. Shailja is a public servant specialising in health and medical research policy, and holds a Bachelors and Masters in International Relations and Affairs from Monash University.


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