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To address the lack of preparedness by countries and the world for COVID-19 and future pandemics, there is now a global push for a new health treaty on preparedness and response that would supplement and strengthen the WHO International Health Regulations.
Although the concept of a new treaty is attractive and has the potential to improve preparedness if structured effectively, focus on a treaty could do more harm than good if the treaty process delays or replaces the necessary efforts to strengthen preparedness now.
For any treaty instrument to be useful, there must be careful consideration of its structure, negotiation process, development, implementation, enforcement mechanisms, independent monitoring and governance.
Because the treaty process is inherently slow, and time is not on our side, we must consider faster processes and ensure that we build on momentum already generated toward making necessary improvements in global health preparedness and accelerate work on creative, practical solutions to strengthen and sustain core capabilities of public health systems in every country and every community of the world.
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that countries were not as prepared as they needed to be and did not consistently respond as mandated by the international health regulations (IHR).1 2 To address these shortcomings, there is now a global push for a new health treaty on preparedness and response that would supplement and strengthen the IHR.3 4 Although this effort has the potential to improve preparedness if structured effectively, discussions must address potential pitfalls and be designed carefully to parallel rather than replace the necessary efforts to strengthen preparedness now. Otherwise, focus on a treaty could do more harm than good.
The concept of a new treaty is attractive—WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called it a ‘very good …