World leaders call for pandemic treaty, but short on details

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FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, July 14, 2020, Director General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adjusts his face mask during the Bastille Day military parade, in Paris. France. More than 20 heads of government and global agencies have called for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response, that they say will protect future generations from future pandemics, with WHO's Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other leaders calling for countries to act cooperatively. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, FILE)

LONDON – More than 20 heads of government and global agencies called in a commentary published Tuesday for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness that they say will protect future generations in the wake of COVID-19.

But there were few details to explain how such an agreement might actually compel countries to act more cooperatively.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leaders including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, Premier Mario Draghi of Italy and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda proposed “a renewed collective commitment” to reinforce preparedness and response systems by leveraging the U.N. health agency’s constitution.

"The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one,” Tedros said during a news conference. He said the treaty would provide “a framework for international cooperation and solidarity” and address issues like surveillance systems and responding to outbreaks.

International regulations governing health and implemented by WHO already exist — and can be disregarded by countries with few consequences. Despite an obligation for nations to share critical epidemic data and materials quickly with WHO, for example, China declined to do so when the coronavirus first broke out.

And with no enforcement powers, WHO officials had little means of compelling them to share details, an AP investigation last year found.

Steven Solomon, WHO's principal legal officer, said the proposed pandemic treaty would need to be ratified by lawmakers in the participating countries.

"Specifics about enforcement will be up to member states to decide on,” Solomon said.