FIVE African presidents are among 24 global leaders who have called for a new treaty to provide a united front for “preparedness and response” to future pandemics.
Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Macky Sall of Senegal, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Kais Saied of Tunisia, and the leaders of the UK, France, Germany and Trinidad and Tobago, among others, plus the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, expressed their views in a joint opinion piece published in newspapers around the world this week.
They acknowledged that the Covd-19 pandemic was 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,” the leaders wrote.
Noting that the pandemic “has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe,” they added: “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.”
They therefore called on the international community to work together “towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response” that would “build a more robust global health architecture that will protect future generations”.
The leaders explained: “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 Organisation, drawing in other relevant organisations 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.”
They added: “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.”
The leaders said they would work with “all stakeholders, including civil society and the private sector”.
They added: “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.”
The opinion piece went on: “Our solidarity in ensuring that the world is better prepared will be our legacy that protects our children and grandchildren and minimises 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.”
Later, Dr Tedros told a press conference in Geneva that since he declared a global health emergency last year, “the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best and worst in humanity”.
The WHO head said: “We have seen acts of incredible courage from health workers, and from communities around the world, on a daily basis.
“But the pandemic has also thrived amid the inequalities in our societies, the geopolitical fault lines in our world, and the frayed trust in our public institutions.”
Dr Tedros added: “It has exposed the gaps in national, regional and global preparedness and response systems, but also allowed us to identify opportunities to strengthen the international health architecture.
“The time to act is now.
“The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one. “We must not allow the memories of this crisis to fade and go back to business as usual.”
Referring to the proposed pandemic treaty, Dr Tedros said it would be taken forward by the World Health Assembly and it would incorporate the WHO’s “principles of health for all, and non-discrimination”.
But he noted that the ultimate success of such a treaty would be down to the “nations of the world”.