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'United Action Is Needed': World Leaders Champion Global Treaty for Pandemic Cooperation

"The Covid-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe."

The signers of a new joint statement released Tuesday say that while Covid-19 has made clear that "united action is needed," they expressed their collective belief "that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response," and added that such "a renewed collective commitment would be a milestone in stepping up pandemic preparedness at the highest political level." (Photo: European Council)

The signers of a new joint statement released Tuesday say that Covid-19 has made clear that "united action is needed" and expressed their collective belief "that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response." (Photo: European Council)

National leaders from around the world Tuesday released a joint statement—also signed by the head of the World Health Organization—calling for the creation of a new international treaty that would better equip human society for future pandemics by forging lasting institutions and principles around public health cooperation, data and research sharing, and equitable access to medicine and treatments, including vaccines.

"We must leave a legacy for our children: a safer world for all."
—Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
"There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone," the leaders argue in the joint statement. "We believe that nations should work together toward a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe."

The signers of the letter say that Covid-19 has made clear that "united action is needed" and expressed their collective belief "that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response." The statement added that such "a renewed collective commitment would be a milestone in stepping up pandemic preparedness at the highest political level."

While the world's two major powers—the United States and China—did not sign onto the letter, it was authored by over 20 heads of states from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and Central America as well as Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

In a Tuesday morning press conference in Geneva, Dr. Tedros said the impacts of Covid-19 have exposed the deep gaps in the international communitiy's ability to stave of such a pandemic and the need for a plan to "systematically tackle" those shortcomings.

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"The impacts on our societies, economies and health, especially for the poor and the most vulnerable, are too significant," Tedros said. He added that "we cannot do things the way we have done them before and expect a different result… we must act boldly."

The letter does not lay out exactly how such a treaty would be forged, but Tedros suggested in his comments global recognition that more cooperation and better institutions are needed is the place to start.

"How such a treaty is developed and what it looks like, and whether it is ratified, is a matter for our Member States—the nations of the world," he said. "We must leave a legacy for our children: a safer world for all."

Read the full statement and its list of signatories below:

The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge to the global community since the 1940s. At that time, following the devastation of two world wars, political leaders came together to forge the multilateral system. The aims were clear: to bring countries together, to dispel the temptations of isolationism and nationalism, and to address the challenges that could only be achieved together in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation, namely peace, prosperity, health and security.

Today, we hold the same hope that as we fight to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic together, we can build a more robust international health architecture that will protect future generations. There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone. The question is not if, but when. Together, we must be better prepared to predict, prevent, detect, assess and effectively respond to pandemics in a highly coordinated fashion. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.

We are, therefore, committed to ensuring universal and equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for this and future pandemics. Immunization is a global public good and we will need to be able to develop, manufacture and deploy vaccines as quickly as possible.  

This is why the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) was set up in order to promote equal access to tests, treatments and vaccines and support health systems across the globe. ACT-A has delivered on many aspects but equitable access is not achieved yet. There is more we can do to promote global access.

To that end, we believe that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response.

Such a renewed collective commitment would be a milestone in stepping up pandemic preparedness at the highest political level. It would be rooted in the constitution of the World Health Organization, drawing in other relevant organizations key to this endeavour, in support of the principle of health for all.  Existing global health instruments, especially the International Health Regulations, would underpin such a treaty, ensuring a firm and tested foundation on which we can build and improve.

The main goal of this treaty would be to foster an all-of-government and all-of-society approach, strengthening national, regional and global capacities and resilience to future pandemics. This includes greatly enhancing international cooperation to improve, for example, alert systems, data-sharing, research, and local, regional and global production and distribution of medical and public health counter measures, such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.

It would also include recognition of a “One Health” approach that connects the health of humans, animals and our planet. And such a treaty should lead to more mutual accountability and shared responsibility, transparency and cooperation within the international system and with its rules and norms.

To achieve this, we will work with Heads of State and governments globally and all stakeholders, including civil society and the private sector. We are convinced that it is our responsibility, as leaders of nations and international institutions, to ensure that the world learns the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a time when COVID-19 has exploited our weaknesses and divisions, we must seize this opportunity and come together as a global community for peaceful cooperation that extends beyond this crisis. Building our capacities and systems to do this will take time and require a sustained political, financial and societal commitment over many years.

Our solidarity in ensuring that the world is better prepared will be our legacy that protects our children and grandchildren and minimizes the impact of future pandemics on our economies and our societies.

Pandemic preparedness needs global leadership for a global health system fit for this millennium. To make this commitment a reality, we must be guided by solidarity, fairness, transparency, inclusiveness and equity.

By J. V. Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand; António Luís Santos da Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal; Mario Draghi, Prime Minister of Italy; Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania; Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya; Emmanuel Macron, President of France; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Charles Michel, President of the European Council; Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece; Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea; Sebastián Piñera, President of Chile; Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica; Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania; Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa; Keith Rowley, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago; Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Kais Saied, President of Tunisia; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain; Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway; Aleksandar Vučić, President of Serbia; Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia; Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

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