Zelensky meets heads of state in Singapore, seeks support for security summit

World Health Organization member states have approved steps to strengthen health regulations to better protect against pandemics

GENEVA: The World Health Organization says member states approved a series of new steps on Saturday to improve global preparedness and response to pandemics such as COVID-19 and mpox.

The WHO’s 194 member states have been negotiating an agreement for two years that could increase cooperation before and during a pandemic after acknowledged failures during COVID-19.

Countries have agreed to change international health rules adopted in 2005, such as defining “pandemic emergencies” and helping developing countries better access funding and medical products, the WHO said.
The agreement came as the UN agency wrapped up its six-day World Health Assembly this year, after plans to adopt a broader “treaty” on the pandemic at the meeting were largely delayed by disagreements between developing and richer countries over better sharing of technology and pathogens , which trigger outbreaks.

However, the groups agreed to finish negotiations on the pandemic agreement next year or sooner if possible, the WHO said.

“The historic decisions taken today demonstrate the shared desire of Member States to protect their people and the world from the shared risk of public health emergencies and future pandemics,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

“With this agreement, we are taking steps to hold countries accountable and strengthen measures to stop outbreaks before they threaten Americans and our safety,” US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said on Saturday.

The changes to global health rules aim to strengthen the world’s defenses against new pathogens after COVID-19 has killed more than 7 million people, according to the WHO.

Lawrence Gostin, an expert on public health law at Georgetown University, hailed a “major victory for health security” and posted on X that the move would “streamline negotiations for a pandemic agreement.”

The World Health Organization said countries have defined a pandemic emergency as an infectious disease that has a “wide geographic spread” or high risk of infectious disease and has exceeded or may exceed the capacity of national health systems to respond.

It is also defined as an outbreak that has or could cause “significant” economic or social disruption and requires rapid international action, the agency said.

Yuanqiong Hu, senior legal and policy adviser at Médecins Sans Frontières, said the changes passed on Saturday included “important provisions that address fairness in access to medical products during global health emergencies.”

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