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WHO Director-General’s remarks at the seventh meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body

It is difficult to overstate the importance of your work. The world is watching, the stakes are high, and time is short.

Our co-chairs, Roland Driece and Precious Matsoso, and vice-chairs,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning.

Let me begin by thanking you all for your commitment to this task.

It is an historic task. I believe that in future years, you will all look back on the work you did here with pride, because what you are doing is very historic.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of your work. The world is watching, the stakes are high, and time is short.

We need delivery of a pandemic agreement and a package of International Health Regulations amendments to the World Health Assembly in May, next year. This is a generational opportunity that we must not miss.

It has now been almost two years since the Special Session of the World Health Assembly adopted its landmark decision to establish the INB.

Since then, you have had numerous meetings, both formal and informal, and you have discussed multiple drafts, leading now to the Bureau’s proposal for the negotiating text.

I believe strongly that this text may help you come closer together on the path towards consensus.

Together with the International Health Regulations, the Pandemic Agreement will form the international legal framework for strengthening pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

I understand that issues regarding the IHR arose yesterday. This is good news. Coherence between the IHR and the Pandemic Agreement is essential.

I urge you to consider that the core IHR strengths, in surveillance, risk assessment, and core capacities, must be safeguarded, and indeed strengthened.

I also urge the INB and IHR working group to continue to work side by side to ensure coherence.

The Bureau has worked hard to capture the key areas that have been at the heart of your discussions over the past few months.

As you proceed, I remind you that all of these elements are essential, but insufficient on their own.

It is only the combined strength of all of them together that will truly keep the world safer.

An agreement that fails to change the status quo, fails.

A pandemic agreement that fails to ensure collective security and equity in all its forms, fails.

But you do not have to choose between equitable access and innovation.

You do not have to choose between protecting public health and making a fair profit.

You do not have to choose between global health security and national or regional interest. You can find common ground.

It is not an either-or. This is not a zero sum game.

And as if the challenge was not difficult enough, we are operating amid a torrent of fake news, lies, conspiracy theories and mis- and disinformation.

There are those who say – whether they believe it themselves or not – that the accord will cede sovereignty to WHO; that it will give the WHO Secretariat power to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates on countries, and other nonsense.

You know and we know that the agreement will give WHO no such powers.

We need your support to put this nonsense to rest.

We need your support to counter these lies, by speaking up at home and telling your citizens that this agreement will not, and cannot, cede sovereignty to WHO. Period.


My friends, colleagues,

No one is pretending your work is easy. I know it is not.

It is not surprising that with 194 Member States, reaching consensus is not straightforward.

But that does not mean it is unachievable.

There is a way. There is always a way. It is up to you to find that way. I believe you will.

I urge you all to remember why we are here.

We are all here for the same reason: we all want a safer world. We all want a healthier world. We all want a fairer and more equitable world.

At the moment, you still have some differences in some areas about the best way to achieve that world.

But you have commonality in what you are trying to achieve. And that is what matters most.

That commonality must give you confidence that you can, and will, resolve the outstanding issues.

But it will take patience. It will take courage. And it will take compromise. You will not reach consensus if everyone remains entrenched in their positions.

No one can get everything they want. Everyone will have to give something, or no one will get anything.

Do not forget the historical significance of the city in which you are meeting.

It was in this city, just a couple of kilometres from here, that the Geneva Conventions were adopted in 1949.

It was in this city that Cold War rivals met for the Geneva disarmament conference in 1965.

It was in this city that you, the Member States of WHO, negotiated the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control 20 years ago.

The challenges you face now are no more insurmountable than the challenges our forebears faced in those negotiations.

They overcame their differences and succeeded. And so will we – step by step, line by line.

I have always believed that one bite at a time, you can eat an elephant.

This is our chance – maybe our only chance – to get this done, because we have the momentum.

When COVID-19 struck, we acted with urgency to respond. We did things we had never done before, because we had to.

We need that same sense of urgency now. We must do things we have not done before to make the world safer for our children, and our children’s children.

This is the generation that should write the generational agreement, the Pandemic Agreement.

I thank you.

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