The WHO Is Asking All Countries To Agree to Article 19 of Their “Constitution”
The WHO is asking all countries to agree to Article 19 of their “Constitution”.
Below are Tedros’ remarks at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers Meeting:
WHO Director-General’s Remarks at Commonwealth Foreign Ministers Meeting – 23 June 2022
Your Excellency Secretary-General The Right Honourable Patricia Scotland;
Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed;
Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan;
Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
Good afternoon, it’s a pleasure to be here, and it’s wonderful that we are able once again to meet in person.
More than 60% of the world’s population has now completed a primary course of vaccination against COVID-19, and more than 70% of the population of Rwanda has now received at least one dose of vaccine.
Reported cases of COVID-19 here in Rwanda are now at their lowest levels since the pandemic began, and there has not been a reported COVID-19 death for more than three months.
However, this is not the case in all countries.
Transmission is increasing in many countries, including some of yours.
This is despite the fact that testing and sequencing have dropped markedly around the world, which is blinding us to the evolution of the virus;
And 40% of the world’s population remains unvaccinated.
The risk of a new and more dangerous variant emerging remains very real.
So although we have made great progress and have many reasons for optimism, the perception that the pandemic is over is understandable, but misguided.
Ending the acute phase of the pandemic must remain our collective priority.
One of the greatest risks now is that we move on to the next crisis – and there are many demanding our attention – and forget the lessons the pandemic has taught us – lessons that have come at a great price.
The most important of those lessons is the centrality of health.
As Foreign Ministers, you have seen that the pandemic is so much more than a health crisis – it is a global crisis that touches every area of life: business, economics, education, employment, families, technology, tourism, trade, travel, politics, security – and so much more.
The pandemic has taught us that when health is at risk, everything is at risk – especially for low-income and small-island states.
As you know, there have been multiple independent reviews of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 300 recommendations on how to make the world safer.
WHO has studied these reviews carefully, and synthesised the recommendations into a proposal for a stronger global architecture for health emergency preparedness and response.
One of the key recommendations of the reviews was for a new legally-binding international instrument, to support closer cooperation and coordination between countries in the face of global threats.
We have treaties and other international instruments against tobacco, climate change, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and many other threats to our shared security and well-being.
If the nations of the world can come together to agree a common approach to these human-made threats, then it is common sense for countries to now agree on a common approach, with common rules for a common response, to threats arising from our relationship with nature—threats that we cannot entirely control.
An Intergovernmental Negotiating Body, or INB, has now been established and begun its work on developing this new instrument or treaty.
One of the most pressing questions facing the INB in the coming weeks is whether these negotiations will proceed under Article 19 of the WHO Constitution.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that global health security cannot be left to voluntary mechanisms or goodwill.
In our view, a new instrument can only be truly effective in keeping future generations safer from pandemics if it is a binding accord that safeguards individual freedoms and national sovereignty.
We seek the support of all Commonwealth countries for such an accord under Article 19 – and we seek your support now. The INB will decide next month whether to proceed under Article 19. If that decision is delayed now, we may very well lose our best opportunity.
A strong accord will provide a vital overarching framework to support the other recommendations in WHO’s proposal:
Stronger governance that is coherent, inclusive and accountable;
Stronger systems and tools to prevent, detect and respond rapidly to health emergencies;
Stronger financing, both domestically and internationally;
And a stronger WHO at the centre of the global health architecture.
Building that architecture with our Member States is a key priority for WHO in the coming months and years.
But so too is supporting all Member States to build stronger, more resilient health systems, based on primary health care as the foundation of universal health coverage.
Epidemics and pandemics begin and end in communities. That’s why strong health systems at the community level are the best defence against health emergencies, as well as against the many threats to health that your people face every day.
Here in Africa, WHO remains committed to working closely with the Commonwealth and the African Union to strengthen the continent’s health systems and institutions – including a strong and empowered Africa CDC.
Underpinning all of this must be the conviction that health is not a luxury for the rich, but a human right for all, an end in itself;
Not a cost, but an investment;
Not simply an outcome of development, but the foundation of social and economic stability and security.
As a health minister and foreign minister myself, I have seen the centrality of health to development and security.
And as Director-General, I remain committed to working with all Commonwealth countries to build a healthier, safer and more sustainable future for your people.