Our Take: Are the UN Declaration on PPPR and the Pandemic Accord going in the right direction?

July 25, 2023

The last few weeks have been filled with high-level negotiations among UN Member States on the way forward for global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response (PPPR) efforts. Below, please find an analysis of the negotiated language to date in the Pandemic Accord, and the UN Declaration on PPPR, and their implications for equity in PPPR. These analyses were conducted by AVAC and partners working in collaboration to track progress toward equity in these agreements and develop an advocacy agenda for provisions in both that ensure equity in global health advances. The Declaration is an agreement that involves heads of state and potentially a role for all ministries of government. The Pandemic Accord is being negotiated by members of the WHO to strengthen PPPR.

The Pandemic Accord: A look at negotiations to date

The first draft of the WHO-led Pandemic Accord was released in May, containing edits to the zero draft from the Member States. As expected, edits from high-income countries introduced challenges to equity provisions in the text— particularly provisions aimed at ensuring that agreements to share access to data on pathogens is paired with commitments to also share the benefits developed from research using those data (termed pathogen access and benefits sharing). Other equity provisions that were challenged include intellectual property, and language on how the world should allocate vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics in the event of a global pandemic threat. Throughout the document, certain high-income Member States inserted caveats or wording, such as “encourage” or “as appropriate”, which would make implementation voluntary or compliance more subjective. Other phrases to weaken the agreements, such as replacing “commit to” with “recognize the importance of”, were also inserted.

Negotiations so far have resulted in weaker, alternative language to several key articles than in the so-called zero draft of the accord. These include articles on technology transfer, the Pathogen Access and Benefit Sharing (PABS) System, health workforce strengthening, and the proposed Supply Chain & Logistics Network. There are, however, some clauses that have been strengthened. Global R&D networks, laboratory networks for genomic surveillance, knowledge translation, and the harmonization of regulation to accelerate WHO pre-approval and authorization all have stronger commitments and more details than before. You can find the first draft here and a closer analysis of the changes made between the zero and first draft here.

The UN Declaration on PPPR: What’s in the Zero Draft?

The zero draft of the UN Declaration on PPPR, set to be adopted at the High-Level Meeting on September 20, was released in June.

Many provisions in the draft Declaration are positive, recognizing and affirming key points related to human rights and inclusive provisions that prioritize vulnerable and marginalized populations. The draft recognizes vaccine inequity as a vital concern, affirms key principles of equity and non-discrimination and the need to ensure adequate support for both health workers and the WHO. However, there are very few, if any, concrete targets set, leaving little to hold countries accountable. Missing from the Declaration, in particular the section on Overarching Health Related Issues, is the need for countries to prioritize and commit to building on the global responses to ongoing epidemics, including HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, polio, other neglected disease outbreaks such as Ebola, Marburg, and cholera, and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

This is a missed opportunity with enormous implications. It signals a troubling and serious global inability to build on existing health and community infrastructures, integrate responses, and avoid erecting isolated pillars in global health architecture. Many of the capacities needed for PPPR already exist in the response to these other health threats. They can and must be expanded and strengthened for broader pandemic preparedness. In addition, the history of the responses to HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria have made clear that community leadership in the response and civil society engagement are essential to achieve success in PPPR. The current response to existing health threats, which through trial and error have built resilient and effective systems, should serve as the foundation for any future pandemic preparedness and response efforts. The Declaration’s silence on this issue is gravely concerning.

The Declaration’s clauses relating to agreements on pandemic-related tools and products are strong, and notably stronger than those in the first draft of the Pandemic Accord. But equity provisions, and access to those tools, could be strengthened further, by including compulsory licensing and transfer of know-how when necessary.

It’s vital for advocates to engage with these processes, and leverage their power to influence the emerging architecture in global health. Decisions being made now will have implications for years to come. And the voices of advocates are having an influence. For example, the US government’s contribution to the current draft of the UN declaration recently added specific recommendations from AVAC and partners on the inclusion of Good Participatory Practice. It’s up to all of us to make sure GPP and other provisions that ensure equity in global health are in place when the drafts become final.

You can find the Declaration zero draft here and see our analysis and the changes we call for here.

What’s Next

These negotiations are setting the direction for pandemic readiness for years to come. As discussions continue in the weeks and months ahead, it’s imperative for advocates and countries to be raising their voices and calling for language and commitments that will ensure equity in PPPR. Building on the lessons the world has learned from ongoing epidemics, and integrating the response must be a priority to ensure the tragic results of inequity in global health are not repeated, again and again.

AVAC will be sharing these analyses with our partners and governments with whom we work with. For more background, read AVAC’s Advocates Guide for PPPR. And you can take action now by sending these resources to your country’s UN representatives and other influential voices in your networks!