2 June 2022 | A radical proposal by the US government to tighten the International Health Regulations (IHR) has failed at the 75th World Health Assembly of the WHO in Geneva due to the resistance of African and other countries, which did not want to submit so easily to a health dictatorship from Washington and Geneva. Negotiations about a strengthening of the IHR will continue until 2024 in parallel with the global pandemic treaty.
From May 22 to 28, health ministers met in Geneva for the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO) for everything that its Director-General is not allowed to decide himself.
On the agenda was something important, if not spectacular, even if standard media consumers didn’t hear about it: As reported on this blog and few other alternative media, the U.S. government had submitted a proposal to drastically tighten the International Health Regulations (IHR). It amounted to giving the WHO Director-General and Regional Directors broad powers to declare various types of health emergencies almost arbitrarily, without having to involve the governments concerned. Governments in whose countries suspected hazardous health incidents occur should have technical assistance from WHO and international expert teams imposed on them.
Even if one looked for it, during the meeting in Geneva, one found practically no substantive reports on how the discussion about the IHR reform was going and what was decided about it, neither in the media, nor from the WHO. Just as if pandemic policy was something that the general public was not or should not be of interest to the general public.
It was only in the WHO’s daily summary for the media on the penultimate day, May 27, that one could read, down at the bottom, that the delegates had agreed on an amendment to the IHR to the effect that future amendments should come into force after only one year instead of the previous two years. This was, in a watered-down form, a proposal included in the U.S. government’s reform paper. It was mentioned in passing that “earlier in the week” a “comprehensive process to bring about future amendments to the IHR” had already been agreed to.
The European offshoot of the U.S. magazine Politico provides a particularly fine example of disinformation surrounding the IHR. The article, “Countries reach deal on changes to global health rules – World Health Assembly adopts US-led resolution on timeline for amendments to the International Health Regulations” The headline and sub headline, while not false, completely fails to mention, even in the main text, that the substantive U.S. proposals to change the health regulations were not adopted.
The suspicion that the U.S. proposal had run into heavy resistance, without the WHO wanting to admit and the media wanting to report it, was to be confirmed. At the conclusion of the meeting on May 28, a first substantial, albeit rather embellished report was available on Health Policy Watch, a specialized news service, which aims to inform health policy makers, especially in developing countries. The online magazine is funded by the Wellcome Trust, which is extremely influential in health policy, and other foundations.
Between the lines one could read what had happened. Without specifically mentioning the U.S. proposal, the report states:
The decisions made this week set in motion a process for updating the vague and often indirect 2005-era IHR rules, while negotiations proceed over a broader pandemic treaty. Earlier in the week, that procedurally-oriented resolution ran into unexpected resistance from some nations, including the African Group, which was concerned that changes might be introduced to the IHR without sufficient study or input.”
Elsewhere, however, the resolutions are said to be “part of a highly technical package of measures proposed by the United States.”
In a May 25 post, Health Policy Watch had been more forthright, writing that “admittedly” the U.S. proposals were very far-reaching and therefore had no chance of gaining consensus.
However, because they knew from the US-proposal which way the wind was blowing, many African countries, led by Botswana together with countries like China and Iran, opposed even the more modest alternative proposal by the U.S., the EU. The final decision is a compromise with these sceptical countries.
Thus, from the (not at all technical, but extremely political) package of measures proposed by the U.S. government, only the mitigated shortening of the implementation period of any future changes and a way to get to such changes, was accepted. The reason for the preliminary failure was the resistance of the poorer and weaker countries, which did not want to consent to a reform that would disempower them without even having been involved in the reform process.
The new timetable
The failure, however, is only temporary. Loyce Pace, U.S. secretary of health and human services, was quoted as saying:
“If it doesn’t happen this week, we’re not going to stop, we’re going to keep working to that end”
One can expect them to work on the reluctant countries with promises and threats. According to Health Policy Watch, the agreed-upon procedure will allow all countries to make their own reform proposals by September, with a report to be written by January 2023. In 2023, negotiations will take place and a newly created IHR reform committee is expected to make its own proposals. A decision would then be made in 2024.
This timetable runs roughly parallel to the planned negotiations for a global pandemic treaty, which the WHO is seeking. What this treaty should contain is still open, but it looks like there should be a strong emphasis on mass testing for new and known pathogens and, of course, vaccination campaigns.
The WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, had put it this way in his opening address to the WHO General Assembly in May 2021: as a consequence of the Corona pandemic, surveillance and testing would have to be increased, misinformation would need to be countered, national vaccination strategies would need to be implemented, and the promotion of vaccination would need to be expanded, especially in developing countries, as an act of solidarity.
If the U.S. should even partially succeed with its ideas for tougher International Health Regulations and a global pandemic treaty should be adopted, pharmaceutical companies could hope for regular massive orders of vaccines in the future. And the population would have to prepare itself for life in a chronic health emergency regime with partially suspended basic rights.
What can we do?
- Keep calm when the next pseudo-pandemic is declared,
- inform people you know or who listen to you,
- do not accept nonsensical rules,
- sign petitions on the pandemic treaty and IHR,
- make it clear to the members of parliament by letters and phone calls that the issue is important to their voters, so that they do not continue to ignore it,
- take to the streets.