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WHO meeting concludes with legal-binding proposal

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This second meeting of the INB aimed to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on preparedness and response and came with an outcome of an agreement that the new instrument should be legally binding.

The importance of a legally binding instrument cannot be overstated. Image credit: WHO

The importance of a legally binding instrument cannot be overstated. Image credit: WHO

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Body’s (INB) work aims to ensure better preparedness and equitable response for future pandemics, and to advance the principles of equity, solidarity, and health for all. The INB is a subdivision of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of WHO’s governing body, and is comprised of WHO’s 194 member states, associate members, and regional economic integration organisations.

Last week, INB members agreed, through consensus, that they will work to conclude a new, legally-binding international pandemic agreement. They are working to conclude this agreement in May 2024.

The next meeting of the INB will be held in December 2022, and the INB will deliver a progress report to the 76th World Health Assembly in 2023.

As with all international instruments, any new agreement, if and when agreed by member states, is drafted and negotiated by governments themselves, who will take any action in line with their sovereignty.

Several sessions of the INB2 were publicly webcast, including the session that addressed the potential substance of the future agreement, recorded and accessible here.

The INB process is broad and inclusive with strong engagement open to all 194 WHO member states, as well as relevant stakeholders from around the world, including UN Agencies, intergovernmental organisations and non-State actors in official relations with WHO.

The WHO secretariat is also conducting global public hearings to support the work of the INB; the first round of hearings took place in April 2022 and a second round is expected to take place in September this year.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, addressed the INB members and welcomed this historic step forward to safeguard families and communities everywhere from the threat of future pandemics. He thanked all Member States and relevant stakeholders for the commitment and engagement in the process so far. “The importance of a legally binding instrument cannot be overstated: it will be our collective legacy for future generations,” he said.

The INB acknowledged the work towards the amendments of the International Health Regulations (2005) and the need for coherence and complementarity between the two workstreams.

The co-chair of the INB, Ms Precious Matsoso, from South Africa, said: “The decision today is a first important step of our critical work together. But we still have many hills to climb. It is a journey that will require all of us to stand together. We, as co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body, are grateful to count on committed member states and resolute members of the bureau to reach success in our collective work.”