World Health Assembly agrees on Health Regulations but future pandemics agreement talks to continue for a year

June 6, 2024: The World Health Assembly of World Health Organisation (WHO) member governments this week agreed on changes to the International Health Regulations (IHR) but did not agree on a more general agreement about the management of future pandemics. Discussions on the broader agreement by the International Negotiating Body (INB) will continue until May 2025.

The meeting was still dominated by divisions between industrialised countries influenced by the views of pharmaceutical companies, and developing countries seeking flexibility on medicine monopolies and sharing of knowledge and technology to achieve more equitable access for low-income countries to pandemic-related products. The IHR agreement was reached by acknowledging these issues without much detail, but opposition to more equitable access from industrialised countries prevented consensus on the future pandemic agreement.

Civil society and public health groups developing countries welcomed the IHR agreement. They expressed determination to advocate for more equitable outcomes in the broader pandemic agreement over the coming year. 

Dr Maria Guevara, Doctors without Borders (MSF) International Medical Secretary said:

"MSF welcomes these new amendments to the IHR as an important first step towards addressing inequity in access to medical care and health products during global health emergencies. As a medical humanitarian organisation responding to emergencies globally, we are encouraged to see explicit recognition of the need to ensure access to health products during health emergencies, including in humanitarian settings. 

“As the INB negotiation is extended for another year, we urge WHO member states to remember the clear lessons learned from the past health emergencies, from Ebola virus disease to COVID, follow the example of the IHR amendments, and complete the package of measures needed for a just framework for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. 

“In the next phase of INB negotiations, governments should build on the progress made and commit to stronger obligations on remaining issues, including ensuring transparency and transfer of technologies and know-how; linking people’s contributions to research and development with the requirement to ensure access to medical products; collaborating on production, supply, stockpiling and allocation efforts; and establishing a global mechanism for pathogen access and benefit sharing.”

AFTINET has consistently supported these proposals to achieve more equitable access to pandemic-related products in future pandemics, and will continue to urge the Australian government to support them over the coming year.