The Dissonance Around a Pandemic Treaty; What the Damning Allegations in the DRC Mean for WHO; TRIPS Waiver Stalemate
Newsletter Edition #95 [The Weekly Primer]
One is faced with a loss of words in processing that the world’s premier public health agency has to address serious allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation which occurred in the backdrop of an emergency response. This is the kind of governance and moral failure that most organizations will find difficult to recover from.
Could it be that the scores of courageous women from the DRC who shared their personal stories of abuse could contribute to a change in the way such incidents are addressed in Geneva?
WHO’s top boss is at the cusp of re-election. It is not clear whether this report by an independent commission that investigated the allegations of abuse by those affiliated to WHO, in the DRC during the Ebola response, will have any impact on the future of DG Tedros at WHO. He has apologized and has taken responsibility. Some critics have even appreciated WHO for instituting an independent commission. This also goes to show the woeful response to such matters in the past.
Given the raging pandemic of COVID-19, WHO has to recover from this and do better. DG Tedros, likened internally to a war-time general is expected to be re-elected for a number of other factors.
For Tedros, the discussions around a pandemic treaty are gathering steam in the backdrop of these talks on his re-election. While a treaty at this point seems distant, any progress in that direction will be a win for the WHO DG, a key “salesman” of the treaty idea as one Geneva observer remarked.
This curated edition catches you up with a flurry of publications over the weekend, which, read collectively show an increasing dissonance around a pandemic treaty.
Also sharing our exclusive from last week, an update on the discussions at the Sustainable Financing Working Group at WHO: A Replenishment Model for WHO; The Questions Guiding the Pandemic Treaty Talks. Sign up to read.
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I. POLICY UPDATES
Discussions around a pandemic treaty
WHO has published a few documents pertaining to the ongoing discussions at the Bureau of the Working Group. Some of these were published very late that has given little time for countries to analyse. Questions and concerns continue to be raised on the process around these discussions. See below Third World Network’s analysis on some of these documents.
(Our recent stories on this: The Questions Guiding the Pandemic Treaty Talks; A Meeting Among the Friends of the Pandemic Treaty; Threats of sanctions from Berlin ahead of talks in Geneva might alter support for pandemic treaty)
“There are “real differences” of views among World Health Organization member states with regard to the possibility of a pandemic treaty proposed by the European Union and strengthening of the existing International Health Regulations (IHR)….
…It is also interesting to note that while the WGPR Bureau’s draft summary was being finalized, the WHO Secretariat had already moved ahead with forming the panel of experts for the pilot Universal Health Preparedness Review (UHPR). A call for experts has been issued to and the last date for application was 17 September.”
“A European Commission “reflection paper” supports the argument that its proposal for a pandemic treaty aims to secure the European Union’s health security interests using hard law in a selective manner, and then leave the requirements of public health response coordination and cooperation to non-binding soft law mechanisms. It means there is little political momentum within the EU to strengthen the legal duty to cooperate under the existing International Health Regulations or to enhance timely equitable access to health care products with binding legal force.”
Read Gian Luca Burci, an international health law scholar at The Graduate Institute and a former WHO legal counsel, in this analysis, on the path forward for these discussions:
“How to get to the initial draft?
The initial draft of the treaty is politically and psychologically very important because it inevitably shapes the dynamics of the subsequent negotiations, even for countries opposing it. Even though it is possible for one or more states to come forward with a zero draft text, this is a relatively uncommon step because questions about the motives of the proposing states could affect or derail negotiations. The responsibility to propose a full zero draft therefore can either fall on the chair of the negotiating body (e.g. the FCTC), on the secretariat (e.g. the revised IHR, or in the environmental field the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, drafted by the UNEP Secretariat).
An important point in this regard is that a zero draft does not come out of thin air, but is the result of previous consultations or preparatory work. In the case of the IHR, the draft proposed by the secretariat was the culmination of many years of technical work and consultations, thus the text was submitted promptly to negotiations after a round of regional consultations. In the case of the pandemic treaty, so far there has been no real open discussion on its scope and content either in the WHA or the WGPR, and it is unlikely that this will occur before the WHA special session. Consequently, it is foreseeable that the body established by the WHA will devote an initial period to discuss or seek expert input on the possible building blocks of a treaty and their challenges and implications. Given the uncertainties and questions surrounding the recent proposals, it would be counterproductive to try to short-circuit an inclusive and bottom-up process for achieving a quick result at all costs.”
Health Policy Watch
Makes for difficult reading, but do read. [Trigger Warning]. Watch the briefing here: Publication of the report of the Independent Commission on DRC SEA allegations (See also the external auditor’s report from earlier this year on this.)
The WHO’s Congo Sex Abuse Scandal Points to Humanitarian Aid’s Deeper Flaws: World Politics Review
“The move to list long-acting insulin analogues (insulin degludec, detemir and glargine) and their biosimilars, along with human insulin, is intended to increase access to diabetes treatment by expanding the choice of treatment. Inclusion in the List means that biosimilar insulin analogues can be eligible for WHO’s prequalification programme; WHO prequalification can result in more quality-assured biosimilars entering the international market, creating competition to bring prices down and giving countries a greater choice of products.”
“Potentially more consequential, the WHO Report “recommended establishing a standing EML Working Group to support the Expert Committee to provide advice to WHO on policies and rules to make highly priced essential medicines more affordable and accessible.””
US government rights in patents on Molnupiravir, based upon funding of R&D at Emory University: Knowledge Ecology International
TRIPS Informal Meeting Update [October 4]:
At the TRIPS Council Informal Meeting today at WTO, discussions between WTO members continued remain in a stalemate with respect to their positions on the waiver proposal according to Geneva-based trade sources.
Dagfinn Sørli, Norwegian Ambassador to the WTO, and TRIPS Council Chair, has looked to WTO members for directions on the way forward to get around the current impasse. A TRIPS formal meeting scheduled on October 13th, which is expected to be the last one before the Ministerial Conference later this year. This indicates a very limited time to build consensus among members with divergent views on this proposal.
While some countries urged the TRIPS Council Chair, to work with Ambassador David Walker on the broader WTO response to the pandemic. But it is understood that TRIPS chair insisted on a members-driven outcome on the waiver. (See our earlier story on the Walker process. Opponents to the TRIPS Waiver proposal have referred to “Walker process” as a way to find pragmatic outcomes on IP issues.)
Sources also suggested that the U.S. seems to protect its original intent on limiting the scope of the waiver to vaccines only as per its initial statement earlier in the year.
In addition to proponents, co-sponsors, China, Egypt and Pakistan reiterated support for the waiver. The EU, UK, Switzerland continued to oppose the waiver proposal.
Significantly, South Africa has made what seems to be a final pitch on the benefits of the waiver in a document dated 30 September (IP/C/W/684).
Sources also said that the informal meeting switched to a formal mode to adopt the oral status report that will be submitted to the General Council later this week. Like those before, this report will suggest that consideration of the TRIPS Waiver proposal, and other proposals will continue to be discussed the TRIPS Council.
II. WHAT WE FOUND INTERESTING
My colleague Rithika has put this together for you:
MSF Urges Sanofi to Share Technology and Know-how with WHO’s mRNA Vaccine Hub: Health Policy Watch
Vaccine apartheid: The Global South fights back: Al Jazeera
Zydus Cadila to explore mRNA vaccine: Livemint
How Covid wrongfooted the health experts: Financial Times
We're Already Barreling Toward the Next Pandemic: The Atlantic
A one-way ticket. A cash-stuffed teddy bear. A dream decades in the making.: The Washington Post
Serendipity and foresight prepared the world to fight the coronavirus: The Washington Post
FROM THE JOURNALS/REPORTS
The World Trade Organization is regularly in crisis, but this time could be different: The Cosmopolitan Globalist
‘It’s far too complicated’: why fragmentation persists in global health: Globalization and Health
Is China’s Covid-19 Diplomacy Succeeding?: China Power Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies
III. WHAT WE ARE WATCHING
Working group on strengthening WHO preparedness and response to health emergencies: 4-6 October
WTO TRIPS Council Informal Meeting: 4-5 October
WTO General Council Meeting: 7-8 October
WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE): 4-8 October
UN Secretary-General, WHO Director-General on global COVID-19 vaccination strategy: October 7
IV. TWEET THIS WEEK
From the WTO Public Forum:
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