Stark choices faced as WHO member states prepare for debate over future access to Covid-19 treatments
A European Union-sponsored draft resolution on Covid-19 response is gathering steam and storm as it rolls closer to the opening of the World Health Assembly, May 18. Closed door negotiating sessions are happening daily, but it’s still unclear how WHO’s 194 member states will address the big ambition: to ensure wide access to Covid-19 treatments and future vaccines in a world increasingly divided along national lines. Here’s a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes positioning, while everyone waits to see the final text that lands on the shores of the public debate by WHA member states, meeting virtually for the first time ever.
The draft resolution aims to show unity in the face of a global pandemic – ensuring more equitable access for existing diagnostics and medical equipment as well as potential treatments. But hidden in the layers of diplomatic doublespeak are also multiple nuances, as well as minefields, that could befoul the whole negotiation.
Strikingly, the resolution also aims to address obvious weaknesses in international pandemic response, and address criticism of the World Health Organization performance, by calling for an “independent evaluation…to review lessons learnt” about the WHO-coordinated response, as well as the “effectiveness” of mechanisms at its disposal – namely the 2005 International Health Regulations.
The proposal for independent evaluation apparently has wide support. Although it remains to be seen if such a review can be undertaken in a way that satisfies very different blocs and political agendas – including the United States, which has been bitterly critical of WHO, and European countries that would likely see a stronger international order emerge.