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Pandemic agreement talks end without deal

By AFP

May 24, 2024 11:36 PM


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Negotiations on a landmark global agreement on handling future pandemics came to a close on Friday without finalising a deal, though countries voiced the desire to keep pushing for an accord.

Scarred by the devastation caused by Covid-19 -- which killed millions of people, shredded economies and crippled health systems -- countries have spent two years trying to hammer out binding commitments on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

But the talks gathered momentum only in the last few weeks, as the fast-approaching deadline set for before next week's start of the World Health Organization's annual meeting of its 194 member states loomed.

"This is not a failure," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the talks ended at the UN health agency's headquarters in Geneva.

He urged countries to see this as a "good opportunity to re-energise, to recalibrate and be even inspired and have even more commitment... to get where we would like to be".

"There should not be any regrets, because you have tried your best," he said.

The mandate of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) steering the talks expires at next week's World Health Assembly.

The INB must now report back to the Assembly on progress -- and ask what ministers want them to do next.

"We have come to the end of a roller-coaster ride," INB co-chair Roland Driece said as he closed the talks.

"We are not where we hoped we would be when we started this process but... we should finish this, for the sake of humanity," he said.

"We truly hope that the World Health Assembly next week... will take the right decisions to take this process forward... and that we will have a pandemic agreement -- because we need it," he said.

Amid arm-twisting, horse-trading, and 3:00 am finishes in recent weeks, the talks had made progress but they could not overcome the remaining obstacles by Friday's deadline.

"It's clearly a pause. Most member states want to carry on and lock in the gains," an Asian diplomat in the talks told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We're not yet there with the text we have on the table. People need time to adjust their positions. The big question is, what will it take for the north and the south to get to convergence? It needs time."

  Will to keep going 

 The talks were held behind closed doors at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, until the closing session.

The main disputes revolved around issues of access and equity: access to pathogens detected within countries, and to pandemic-fighting products such as vaccines derived from that knowledge.

Other tricky topics were sustainable financing, pathogen surveillance, supply chains, and the equitable distribution of not only tests, treatments and jabs but also the means to produce them.

"The best thing is to have a good, inclusive text. Whether that is now or later doesn't matter. But were we able to reach a good text today? No," an African negotiator in the talks told AFP.

"We want to continue the process. We really want this text."

US negotiator Pamela Hamamoto said: "I'm glad that we have the draft text to show for the work that we have done together."

The rolling draft agreement was not made public, but a 32-page version as it stood on Thursday, seen by AFP, showed that large sections had been approved, but a number had not.

"I think they will present to the assembly the skeleton of the instrument: there is agreement on the principles and structure," Jaume Vidal, senior policy advisor with Health Action International, told AFP before the talks ended.

The assembly could then possibly give instructions for the process to carry on later in the year.

Ellen 't Hoen, a lawyer with the Medicines Law and Policy NGO, said: "Perhaps the ambition of doing this in two years was a bridge too far, the fastest-ever negotiated UN treaty."


AFP


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