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Pandemic preparedness requires international cooperation

By Paul Mulholland - 26th May 2024

Pandemic preparedness

While the Covid-19 emergency may be over, its impact lives on. One of the issues the crisis highlighted was the importance of pandemic preparedness. Even when Covid-19 was still a high global threat, thought was being given on how to be better prepared for when the next pandemic strikes.

At the end of 2021, agreement was reached during the second special session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) to initiate negotiations for an instrument aimed at enhancing pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. This has come to be known as the ‘pandemic agreement’.

The session also committed to reinforcing the international health regulations (IHR) by implementing specific amendments aimed at bolstering global health emergency responses. IHRs were established in 1969 and have been subsequently revised. They serve the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling, and responding to the international transmission of diseases.

Secretary General of the Department of Health, Mr Robert Watt, recently appeared before the Oireachtas committee on health to explain how the pandemic agreement impacts on Ireland and discuss recent developments on the issue.

“At the outset I should say that the pandemic agreement is a member state-led process, driven by the member states,” Mr Watt told the committee on 8 May.

“Any decision as to whether to ratify the agreement will be a matter for individual member states alone to decide. It is important also to point out that, as currently drafted, this agreement presents no loss of sovereignty, based on our opinion, to Ireland or to other countries which are involved in this negotiation process. Specifically, any decisions in relation to actions such as quarantines or travel restrictions or any such measures that may be taken in the context of a future pandemic, are decisions the Irish Government with the support of the Irish Parliament, as necessary through laws or instruments, will be required to take.”

He outlined how, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the global disparity in access to essential medical products and significantly different levels of national health system response were made apparent.

The World Health Organisation has now developed a draft instrument to strengthen pandemic preparedness on the basis of the agreement.

According to Mr Watt, it is intended to have “a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach”.

It prioritises “the need for equity in a global health emergency response and stressing that member states should be guided in their efforts to develop such an instrument by the principle of solidarity with all peoples and countries, which should comprise practical actions to deal with both the causes and consequences of future pandemics”.

During a pandemic, the safety of one nation depends on the safety of all nations. No single country can do it alone. International collaboration is key. Such collaboration can be complex, and agreement is often difficult to achieve. But attempts to make the process easier and more straightforward should be encouraged so the world is more ready when the next crisis occurs.

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