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Pandemic Treaty in final stretch amidst rift between rich and poor nations


 When former Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu issued facemasks to students at Matinyani Boys Secondary School. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

The Pandemic Treaty that was proposed by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta together with 24 other global leaders in 2021, is facing a turbulent here in Kenya.

Organisations in the country have declared a treaty as profit-driven at the expense of human lives. 

Under the agreement, Kenya was to benefit from technology transfer, specifically in vaccine production; and the Ministry of Health has already thrown its weight behind the text of the agreement.

However, some civil society organisations and initiatives pushing for health rights have taken a discordant stance.

 Addressing the press in Nairobi, The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), alongside civil society organisations condemned what they termed as a deeply flawed proposal that would only empower rich nations to behave as they did during the Covid-19 pandemic by hoarding vital vaccines.

A joint statement by the organisations stated that the proposal for the WHO Pandemic Agreement has undergone extensive negotiations, resulting in a text that has been watered down and lacks accountability. 

“The recent iteration of the text is filled with platitudes, anaemic in obligations, and devoid of any accountability,” remarked Dr Samuel Kinyanjui, Country Director of AHF Kenya.  

“The proposal, criticised by The Lancet as “shameful, unjust, and inequitable,” fails to prioritise global health security over profit-driven interests,” he said.

UN member countries are expected to agree on a pandemic agreement during the World Health Assembly from May 27th to June 1st, 2024. 

Representatives of 194 member states are in the final leg of talks to try to agree to the proposed WHO Pandemic Agreement.

At the peak of the COVID-19 emergency, nations planned to sign a legally binding document, informally known as the Pandemic Accord, that would force countries to tackle the next global health emergency in as a united front.

Under the terms of the latest draft of the treaty, now in its final iteration, all member states, focusing on developed nations, are obliged to give up to 20 per cent of “pandemic-related health products” to other countries; and are prevented from hoarding supplies. These include therapeutics, PPEs and vaccines.

The WHO document also states that the agency would get “real-time” access to 10 per cent of these products for free and 10 per cent “at affordable” costs.

The document says countries should “set aside a portion of their total procurement of relevant diagnostics, therapeutics, or vaccines on time for use in countries facing challenges…”

“Under the present terms, only 20 per cent of pandemic-related health products are guaranteed to the WHO, leaving the remaining 80 per cent vulnerable to market forces,” noted Kinyanjui.

 “Such an arrangement will effectively leave 80 per cent of crucial vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics prey to the international scramble seen in COVID-19,” he added.

“The statistics underscore the urgent need for equitable access to life-saving medical resources,” he emphasised.

Mr Timothy Wafula, Programme Manager of Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN), said the treaty lacks adequate mechanisms for accountability and enforcement.

 “Equity will not be operationalised without effective mechanisms for accountability and enforcement,” stated Wafula, adding that the proposal “lacks tangible provisions for monitoring and compliance, perpetuating past failures in global health security”.

Calls for accountability have been widespread, echoed by the United Nations General Assembly and prominent international bodies.

“Relying solely on state self-reporting mechanisms does not work,” stated Kinyanjui. The absence of independent oversight and clear enforcement frameworks undermines the agreement’s effectiveness.

Poorer nations see healthcare sharing as essential in ensuring equitable treatment for all nations, but richer countries are concerned about relinquishing autonomy for a global organisation. While most developing nations decry little allocation of pandemic management resources, developed nations like the UK have refused to accept the proposals as they are, saying they ought to choose when it’s best for them to distribute products globally. 

Britain’s Department of Health insisted it would only agree to a legally binding accord if it was ‘firmly in the UK’s national interest and respects national sovereignty.’ They called for a commitment that British-made jabs are used only for what the UK deems to be its own national interest.

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