Rich countries should play bigger role in fighting pandemics: WHO

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Richer countries should be asked to better pull their weight in helping the world cope with pandemics, according to a new draft of a treaty being negotiated at the World Health Organization.

Countries with more “capacities and resources” should bear a “commensurate degree” of responsibility for preparing for and responding to global health threats, the draft, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, suggests.

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The treaty, a legally binding agreement being negotiated by WHO member states, aims to address what it calls the “catastrophic failure” of the international community to fight COVID-19 fairly around the world.

COVID has killed around 7 million people since it emerged in China at the end of 2019, disrupting the global economy and ravaging communities. More than 750 million infections have been reported.

The 42-page document aims to help the world do better next time. Member states have the option to remove numerous paragraphs from it in future negotiations, including the one about responsibilities.

Sections that have proved controversial in earlier drafts, including around intellectual property and reserving 20 percent of tests, treatments and vaccines for the WHO to distribute in poorer countries during emergencies, remain in the new draft but could still be removed. No such provision on pandemic countermeasures existed during COVID-19.

A clause in an earlier draft obliging pharmaceutical companies to make details of their deals with governments public appears to have been dropped.

The document also defines “pandemic” - one of several sticking points that have already taken up negotiating time - as “the global spread of a pathogen or variant” that spreads easily, is dangerous, overwhelms health systems, and requires international co-ordination.

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