SWITZERLAND – In a pivotal development, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, co-chair of the Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations (WGIHR), has floated the idea of establishing a singular oversight and compliance body.
This body would be tasked with overseeing both the new pandemic agreement and the amended International Health Regulations (IHR).
Dr Bloomfield’s proposal surfaced during the WGIHR’s sixth meeting, responding to inquiries about independent monitoring raised by Dame Barbara Stocking, chair of the Panel for a Global Public Health Convention.
Concerns from civil society groups advocating for independent oversight were underscored by Stocking, who emphasized the necessity for “independent assessment in both the IHR and any new treaty” due to a prevailing lack of trust between countries and between citizens and governments.
Dr Bloomfield acknowledged the urgency of the issues surrounding compliance, oversight, and monitoring.
He revealed that discussions were underway within both the WGIHR and the intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) about constructing a future oversight and compliance arrangement that integrates both processes.
Addressing concerns of considerable overlap on financing between the two groups, Dr Bloomfield hinted at the possibility of a joint process in that domain.
This revelation came amidst ongoing discussions about existing monitoring arrangements, including the independent oversight and advisory committee established by the WHO Director-General, as well as provisions in the new IHR article (Article 53) and Article 54, and relevant provisions in the draft INB agreement.
Meanwhile, at the WGIHR open plenary, various civil society organizations expressed their apprehensions.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) offered technical expertise on proposed amendments with trade-related elements, emphasizing collaboration with the WHO for a coordinated international pandemic response.
Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology International urged the implementation of transparency measures in the IHR, referencing a WHO resolution from 2019.
The European Society of Medical Oncology called for IHR amendments to fortify health system capacities during pandemics, while Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance appealed for practical measures to ensure equitable access to pandemic-related products.
Grega Kumer of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) proposed three measures to “modernize” the IHR, including early outbreak information sharing, protection incentives on intellectual property, and fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Dr Abdullah Assiri, WGIHR Co-Chair, reported on two inter-sessional activities since the group’s last meeting, addressing key aspects such as Article 44, Annex One, and the public health alert system.
Joint meetings between the bureaus of the INB and the WGIHR focused on financing, surveillance, prevention, capacity building, and One Health.
The INB, in its update, established four drafting subgroups covering prevention, surveillance, technology transfer, access and benefit sharing, and financing and capacity building.
Despite a perfunctory public report-back, the INB co-chair reported productive inter-sessional meetings and completed reviews of the negotiation text.
The next INB meeting is scheduled for February 2024, coinciding with Dr Bloomfield’s emphasis on the common interest in financing and the need for coordinated efforts between the two processes.