Sharing transferable findings for a new WHO pandemic treaty

By Elisa Morgera

Hub findings and policy recommendations related to fair partnerships in bio-based discovery were shared at an international workshop on current negotiations of a new international instrument on pandemics, to enhance preparedness and response and to support the sharing of pathogens, genetic sequence data and benefits, under the aegis of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Hub Director Elisa Morgera was invited to act as discussant at a workshop organised on 25 November 2022 exploring options for such an international instrument, which was attended by the WHO Principal Legal Officer, a representative of the secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Plant Treaty), and 29 country representatives.

Building on research across the One Ocean Hub, Morgera underscored:

  • the importance of a multilateral approach to fair and equitable benefit-sharing in different sectors, to ensure due attention to global objectives underpinning benefit-sharing;
  • the need for specificity, iterative adaptation and long-term thinking when addressing equity and the flow of benefits to all the actors in the process;
  • the usefulness of defining multilaterally global criteria for fairness and equity of benefits-sharing, noting how the WHO Pandemic Influence Preparedness (PIP) Framework provides specific equity criteria in terms of public health risks and need;
  • the need to shift from technology transfer and capacity building as a one-way street from the Global North to the Global South towards technology co-development and mutual capacity;
  • a process to address explicitly the inequities in knowledge production that translate into inequities in response to public health crises; and
  • the opportunity to ensure participatory governance through multilateral advisory bodies, such as a possible “benefits committee” under a new pandemic treaty, that:
    • includes broad representation of different actors (private innovators, researchers in the Global South, database managers);
    • provides a venue for learning and adapting the benefit-sharing system to the changing needs of its participants and the evolving understanding of fairness in the sector; and
    • supports co-development of solutions by these actors, that could then be presented to States as part of a treaty-based monitoring and review process.

    These proposals represented transferable research findings drawing from on the One Ocean Hub policy briefs addressed to UN negotiations on the new treaty on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (see here and here), as well as Hub research on marine bio-discovery, and an earlier study for the European Commission on the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing by Hub researchers Stephanie Switzer and Morgera (Strathclyde University).

    The workshop was co-organised by the Global Health Centre at the Geneva Graduate Institute (Switzerland), the permanent mission of the Republic of Korea and the Support Group for Global Infectious Disease Response (comprising also Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Singapore, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates). The intergovernmental body negotiating a future international pandemic treaty will deliver a progress report to the 76th World Health Assembly in 2023, with the aim to adopt the instrument by 2024.