In late November, Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) will hold a special session of the World Health Assembly to discuss and possibly implement a new treaty agreement on pandemic preparedness and response to address how to best respond to future global pandemics. Under the influence of WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization suggests rules be put in place to expand and amend the International Health Regulations agreed upon in 2005 by 195 countries.
The decision for the Nov. 29 - Dec. 1 global meeting was made in March 2021 by dozens of government and international agency heads and is backed by multiple nations, including Australia, Norway, Canada, Iceland, Republic of Korea, South Africa, United Kingdom, Uraguay, Member States of the European Union, and the United States. Notably absent are the nations of India, Russia, and China.
The 2005 International Treaty, signed by 196 countries, already provides the Member States extensive liberties in the event of a pandemic. An analysis by Dr. Urmie Ray B.A., M.A., Mmath, Ph.d. Cantab published in Principia Scientific International reveals Member States currently have the right to:
- review travel history in affected areas;
- review proof of medical examination and any laboratory analysis;
- require medical examinations;
- review proof of vaccination or other prophylaxis;
- require vaccination or other prophylaxis;
- place suspect persons under public health observation;
- implement quarantine or other health measures for suspect persons;
- implement isolation and treatment where necessary of affected persons;
- implement tracing of contacts of suspect or affected persons;
- refuse entry of suspect and affected persons;
- refuse entry of unaffected persons to affected areas; and
- implement exit screening and/or restrictions on persons from affected areas.
In reviewing the 2005 treaty, Dr. Ray points out that all of the draconian measures endured by global citizens during the current COVID-19 pandemic are "in effect legal under this former treaty." He notes that the 2005 IHRs includes a critical change to the word "quarantine" from that in the 1969 IHR, where it is used exclusively in the expression "in quarantine," which is defined as a "state or condition during which measures are applied by a health authority to a ... means of transport or container, to prevent the spread of disease, reservoirs of disease or vectors of disease from the object of quarantine."
Modified from the 1969 meaning given to "quarantine," the revised 2005 IHR defines the term as "the restriction of activities and/or separation from others of suspect persons who are not ill or of suspect baggage, containers, conveyances or goods in such a manner as to prevent the possible spread of infection or contamination." Emphasizing this intentional change, Dr. Ray states, "This represents a subtle but critical shift from protection of the community to restriction of individual liberties." He continued, adding:
"The implementation of quarantine and other coercive measures on all, including surveillance and vaccination, is legalized: the expression “suspect persons” criminalizes every individual, both healthy and unhealthy. Indeed, it covers anyone “considered by a State Party as having been exposed, or possibly exposed, to a public health risk and that could be a possible source of spread of disease.” Of significance is the use of “possibly” and “possible,” hence not just anyone definitely known to be a risk factor."
A New Treaty Would Grant More Power to the WHO
The WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insists the new treaty would "do the most to boost global health security and also empower the World Health Organization." Under the 2005 treaty, some power is still granted to individual states. According to Dr. Ray's article, the WHO can suggest additional actions to the 2005 agreement—but has no authority to impose them. The new treaty would override this restriction.
For example, under the 2005 treaty, if the WHO imposes what it terms "measures" and then declares the "measures" are not strong enough, then the global health body can announce what it calls "stronger measures." These measures can incorporate the implementation of restraints against "social and economic disruptions" and what the WHO terms a "broader disaster risk."
However, the new treaty would go above and beyond just the idea of imposing new sanitary rules by taking additional steps to control behavior to prevent a further disaster. Under the current treaty, it is unclear what entity is qualified to declare a situation a "disaster" Is it the state where the "disaster" happens, or is it the WHO?
Below is the transcript of a speech given by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (in the video below) at a meeting hosted by the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, in partnership and supported by the Foundation for the National Health Institute (FNIH) at Georgetown University, USA.
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
As you know, there have been several reviews of the global response to the pandemic, with many recommendations for strengthening global health security. They all recognize the need for better systems and tools. Better financing including for global public goods such as vaccines. Better global governments and a stronger empowered and sustainably financed WHO.
To connect and underpin these ideas, I believe the time is right for an international
treaty or other legally binding instruments to provide the framework for a more coherent and coordinated response to future epidemics and pandemics.
Whatever new structures or mechanisms are established, they must promote equity and galvanize the engagement and ownership of all countries. They must be multi-sectoral, involving partners from across the one-health spectrum. They must be coherent with the international health regulations. They must be rooted in the constitutional mandate of WHO, and they must be accountable and transparent.
Thank you for your engagement in discussing and analyzing the legal tools available for pandemic preparedness as we prepare for the special session of the World Health Assembly in November.
The pandemic has taught us many lessons. The most important is that we are one species sharing one planet, and we have no future but a shared future.
According to Dr. Ray, a more significant issue with the proposed treaty amendment is the potential violation of the Siracusa Principles. Drafted in 1984 by the UN Commission on Human Rights in an International Covenant, the principles guarantee fundamental human rights in the event of a worldwide disaster by ensuring the "right to life; freedom from torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, and from medical or scientific experimentation without free consent."
The realization that Russia, China, and India do not appear to support the new treaty is compelling. Also a factor of interest and essential to remember is some of the primary contributors to the WHO—both financially and objectively—are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance.
A new modification to the existing IHR treaty would take time. Still, if implemented, it would undoubtedly facilitate the global reset goals of the World Economic Forum, the United Nations, and other international organizations pushing for a New World Order.