World Leaders Call for Treaty to Deal with Future Pandemics

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”

After World War I, many countries said “enough!”—another calamitous conflagration must be avoided at all costs and they formed the League of Nations. (Which the United States never joined.) That didn’t work, and within about 20 years World War II erupted, a conflict in which even millions more human beings died. Out of the ashes of that war, came the United Nations (in which the US took the lead in forming).

A pandemic is like a war in that it can disrupt civilization, a lesson hammered home by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). That’s the point made by leaders of about 20 countries and officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint letter sent yesterday to newspapers and other media outlets around the world. In fact, the signers alluded to World War II, as they noted that COVID-19 had posed the “greatest challenge for the global community since the late 1940s.”

And, yes, the letter did use the phrase “if, not when.” The letter states: “No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone. The question is not if, but when. Together, we must be better prepared to predict, prevent, detect, assess and effectively respond to pandemics in a highly coordinated fashion. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”

Noticeably absent among the signatories: the US, China and Russia. Not to worry, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, said at a press conference yesterday. He said that when the talks about a pandemic treaty start, he expects that “all member states will be represented.”

The letter states: “The main goal of this treaty would be to foster an all-of-government and all-of-society approach, strengthening national, regional and global capacities and resilience to future pandemics. This includes greatly enhancing international cooperation to improve, for example, alert systems, data-sharing, research, and local, regional and global production and distribution of medical and public health counter measures, such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.”

The letter also takes into account the fact that, as experts have toldInfection Control Today®, animals can be hosts to pathogens that are then passed on to humans. A recent WHO investigation notes that COVID-19 most likely spread from bats to another animal and then on to humans.

The pandemic treaty, the letter states, would “include recognition of a ‘One Health’ approach that connects the health of humans, animals and our planet. And such a treaty should lead to more mutual accountability and shared responsibility, transparency and cooperation within the international system and with its rules and norms.”

While the WHO makes plans to deal with future pandemics, US officials deal with the current one, saying that while great strides have been made in the vaccination rollout (as of this week, the US had surpassed 50 million fully-vaccinated adults, with plans to open vaccine access to all eligible adults in early April), there are telltale signs that COVID-19 variants could possible cause a fourth surge.

At a press conference yesterday, Rochelle Walensky, MD, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said a recent uptick in infections and hospitalizations have given her a feeling of “impending doom.”

“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared,” Walensky said. She cited recent CDC data showing that positive COVID-19 cases have increased by 10.6% compared to the previous seven-day period. Over the same seven-day period, hospitalizations rose by 4.2% and deaths by 2.6%.

Yesterday, according to Johns Hopkins University, there were 43,694 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, while 506 people died from the disease.

“I am asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends,” Walensky said.

Meanwhile, President Biden is urging local and state legislators to maintain mask-wearing mandates—and to restore them in the few states where they have already been lifted.

In the United States, there have been over 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and about 550,000 people have died from the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the world, there have been about 128 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, while about 2.79 million people have died from the disease.