WHO chief welcomes EU proposal for pandemic preparedness treaty

FILE PHOTO: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) speaks during the opening of the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, January 18, 2021. Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) - The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday welcomed an EU proposal to negotiate a global treaty on pandemic preparedness as a way to guarantee countries’ political commitment to fighting future disease outbreaks.

The endorsement by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus came at the end of a three-day debate at the WHO’s executive board, at which the agency’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak came under criticism. A report by an independent panel faulted China for being slow to apply public health measures, and the WHO for waiting too long to declare an emergency.

Charles Michel, who chairs summits of EU leaders, proposed last month that countries draw up a treaty, so that their obligations in future pandemics would be clear from the outset. Tedros held a meeting with Michel in December.

Tedros, referring to the proposal, told the board: “All of us have seen how unprecedented this pandemic is, and we have to give it our best. And I think a treaty is the best thing that we can do that can (ensure) the political commitment of member states.”

He noted that such a treaty would be the first global public health accord since a 2003 tobacco control pact. Diplomats said that the board did not examine the proposal, and it was not clear that it had any immediate traction.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans and Peter Graff