brown81_Allen J. Schaben  Los Angeles Times via Getty Images_vaccines Allen J. Schaben Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A New Global Architecture for Health

As the World Health Assembly gathers this week for a special session, its task is nothing less than preventing a tragedy like COVID-19 from recurring. Specifically, the world needs a legally binding international agreement to prevent future infectious-disease outbreaks from becoming pandemics.

EDINBURGH – The damage caused by COVID-19 – exacerbated by the continued appearance of new variants, most recently Omicron – has been catastrophic. More than five million lives worldwide have already been lost to COVID-19, and with confirmed cases on track to swell from 260 million today to 460 million by next autumn, the World Health Organization estimates that five million more people may die from the disease in the coming months.

So, when the World Health Assembly (WHA) gathers for a special session starting on November 29, its task is nothing less than preventing the recurrence of such a tragedy. Specifically, the world now needs an internationally binding agreement to prevent future infectious-disease outbreaks from becoming pandemics.

As Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, has argued, a new agreement should be underpinned by a high-level commitment to health for all, grounded in equity and solidarity between countries. Everyone, regardless of their wealth or income, should have fair access to what they need to maintain their health, and the international community should ensure the equitable use and distribution of available medical resources. That will require a fully functioning global surveillance system, fast-tracking and sharing support in emergencies, and predictable finance.

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