A Primer on the WHO, the Treaty, and its Plans for Pandemic Preparedness

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by Arjun Walia, The Pulse:

The World Health Organization (WHO), whose constitution defines health as ‘a state of physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,’ has recently orchestrated remarkable reversals in human rights, poverty reduction, education, and physical, mental and social health indices in the name of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

WHO proposes to expand the mechanisms that enabled this response, diverting unprecedented resources to addressing what in terms of history and disease are rare and relatively low-impact events. This will greatly benefit those who also did well from the Covid-19 outbreak, but has different implications for the rest of us. To address it calmly and rationally, we need to understand it.

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Building a new pandemic industry

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its Member States, in concert with other international institutions, is proposing, and currently negotiating, two instruments to address pandemics and widely manage aspects of global public health. Both will significantly expand the international bureaucracy that has grown over the past decade to prepare for, or respond to, pandemics, with particular emphasis on development and use of vaccines.

This bureaucracy would be answerable to the WHO, an organization that in turn is increasingly answerable, through funding and political influence, from private individuals, corporations and the large authoritarian States.

These proposed rules and structures, if adopted, would fundamentally change international public health, moving the center of gravity from common endemic diseases to relatively rare outbreaks of new pathogens, and building an industry around it that will potentially be self-perpetuating.

In the process, it will increase external involvement in areas of decision-making that in most constitutional democracies are the purview of elected governments answerable to their population.

WHO does not clearly define the terms ‘pandemic’ and ‘public health emergency’ that these new agreements, intended to have power under international law, seek to address. Implementation will depend on the opinion of individuals – the Director General (DG) of the WHO, Regional Directors and an advisory committee that they can choose to follow or ignore.

As a ‘pandemic’ in WHO parlance does not include a requirement of severity but simply broad spread – a property common to respiratory viruses – this leaves a lot of room for the DG to proclaim emergencies and set the wheels in motion to repeat the sort of pandemic responses we have seen trialed in the past 2 years.

Responses that have been unprecedented in their removal of basic peace-time human rights, and that the WHO, Unicef and other United Nations (UN) agencies have acknowledged to cause widespread harm.

This has potential to be a boon for Big Pharma and their investors who have done so well out of the last two years, concentrating private wealth whilst increasing national indebtedness and reversing prior progress on poverty reduction.

However, it is not something that has just appeared, and is not going to make us slaves before the month is out. If we are to address this issue and restore societal sanity and balance in public health, we need to understand what we are dealing with.

Proposed International Health Regulations (IHR) amendments

The IHR amendments, proposed by the United States, build on the existing IHR that were introduced in 2005 and are binding under international law. While many are unaware of their existence, the IHR already enables the WHO DG to declare public health emergencies of international concern, and thereby recommend measures to isolate countries and restrict movement of people. The draft amendments include proposals to:

  • Establish an ‘emergency committee’ to assess health threats and outbreaks and recommend responses.
  • Establish a ‘Country review mechanism’ to assess compliance of countries with various recommendations / requirements of WHO regarding pandemic preparedness, including surveillance and reporting measures. This appears to be modeled on the UN’s human rights country review mechanism. Countries would then be issued with requirements to be addressed to bring them into compliance where their internal programs are considered inadequate, on the request of another State party (country).
  • Expand the power of the WHO DG to declare pandemics and health emergencies, and therefore recommend border closures, interruption and removal of rights to travel and potentially internal ‘lockdown’ requirements and send teams of WHO personnel to countries to investigate outbreaks, irrespective of the findings of the emergency committee and without consent of the country where the instance is recorded.
  • Reduce the usual review period for countries to internally discuss and opt out of such mechanisms to just 6 months (rather than 18 months for the original IHR), and then implement them after a 6-month notice period.
  • Empower Regional Directors, of which there are 6, to declare regional ‘public health emergencies,’ irrespective of a decision by the DG.

These amendments will be discussed and voted on at the World Health Assembly on May 22-28, 2022. They only require only a simple majority of countries present to come into law, consistent with Article 60 of the WHO constitution. For clarity, this means countries such as Niue, with 1,300 people, have an equal weight on the voting floor as India, with 1.3 billion people. Countries must then signal intent to opt out of the new amendments within 6 months.

Once approved by the WHA, these measures will become legally binding. There will be heavy pressure applied to governments to comply with the dictates of the WHO DG and the unelected bureaucrats that comprise the organization, and thereby also the external actors who are influential in WHO decision-making processes.

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