Critics decry lackluster UN declarations on pandemics, universal health coverage, and tuberculosis

USA — Global health experts and advocates have voiced their dismay and frustration over the draft political declarations set to be adopted by world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) this week.

The declarations, which cover pandemics, universal health coverage (UHC), and tuberculosis, have come under scrutiny for their failure to advance on previous international agreements.

The declarations also lack human rights safeguards, and their inability to provide a clear roadmap for improved healthcare access and medication availability, particularly in low-middle income countries and for marginalized groups.

Rajat Khosla, director of the International Institute on Global Health at the UN University, has labeled the draft pandemic declaration as a “big disappointment and missed opportunity.”

Khosla points out that the declaration falls short, offering only vague and aspirational language instead of firm commitments. Crucial issues like addressing inequalities, vulnerable populations, accountability, international cooperation, and funding have been glossed over, leaving room for improvement.

Moreover, the declaration fails to address pressing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as criticisms of state overreach in pandemic response, the breakdown of international cooperation, and the lack of accountability of pharmaceutical companies.

Instead, it emphasizes national sovereignty as a paramount concern, rather than focusing on global solutions.

The draft political declaration on universal health coverage (UHC) also faces criticism for its failure to bring anything new to the table since the previous declaration in 2019.

According to Luis Gil Abinader, a Fellow at the O’Neill Institute’s Global Health Policy and Politics Initiative, the measures outlined in the 2023 declaration largely mirror those of 2019.

This includes areas like digital health and the need to protect privacy in the digital realm, despite the escalating concerns surrounding human rights violations in the digital age.

Erosion of gender and human rights

Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership (STBP), expresses frustration over the erosion of language related to gender rights and human rights across all three declarations.

She notes that during UN negotiations this year, member states actively sought to remove language related to gender and the rights of key and vulnerable populations.

The weakening of language in the declarations raises concerns about their effectiveness in promoting equitable, inclusive, and rights-based responses.

While the TB draft declaration shows some promising elements, uncertainty looms over consensus support for the final draft.

Notably, it includes specific, measurable, and time-bound targets for TB diagnosis and treatment, along with commitments to strengthen financial and social protections for those affected by TB.

However, key targets have been diluted, and gender and human rights language remains a contentious issue.

In the midst of these criticisms and challenges, there is hope that former co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness, Helen Clark, will address the pandemic High-Level Meeting, bringing forth a candid assessment of pandemic shortcomings and the imperative to safeguard the world against future crises.

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