The WHO recently announced the adoption of an international pandemic treaty (1) linked to a digital passport and health identification system.
Meeting in December last year in a special session for the second time since its founding in 1948, the WHO Health Assembly adopted a single agreement entitled “The World in Common” (2).
The WHO plans to finalise the treaty in 2024. Its aim is to transfer to WHO the direction of public health policy, currently reserved to the 194 Member States, by legally binding them to the WHO’s revised International Health Regulations (3).
According to the WHO draft, pandemics are not limited to infectious diseases and could include, for example, a declared obesity crisis.
In January, the United States submitted a proposal (4) to amend the 2005 International Health Regulations, which bind UN member states, which the WHO director accepted and forwarded to the other member states.
However, the WHO has withdrawn 12 of the 13 amendments tabled by the US, but will return to them at its next meeting on 16-17 June.
Under the new treaty, the WHO will no longer have to consult or seek approval from the state in which a reported event of concern (e.g. a new outbreak) is expected to occur before taking action on the basis of the reports (article 9.1).
In addition to the power to determine a public health emergency of international concern under Article 12, WHO will have additional powers to determine a public health emergency of regional concern, as well as a category called “intermediate health alert”.
It is not necessary for the affected State to approve the decision of the WHO Director for an event to be declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. A new emergency committee will be created at WHO, which the director will consult instead of the state on whose territory the public health emergency of international concern has occurred, to declare the end of the emergency.
The amendments also give WHO regional directors, rather than the elected representatives of the affected states, the legal authority to declare a public health emergency of regional scope.
Even if an event does not meet the criteria for a public health emergency of international concern, the WHO director can order increased awareness and a possible international public health response, and can decide at any time to issue an “intermediate public health alert” to states and consult with the WHO Emergency Committee.
With these amendments, the WHO, with the support of the United States, is responding to the obstacles erected by China in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Each of the proposed changes is a step towards increasing power and centralising the competencies delegated to the WHO, to the detriment of member states.
As part of the plan, the WHO has contracted T-Systems, a subsidiary of Germany-based Deutsche Telekom, to develop a global vaccine passport system (5), with plans to link every person on the planet with a digital QR code identifier.
“Tamper-proof and digitally verifiable vaccination certificates build trust. That’s why WHO is helping member states to build national and regional trust networks and verification technologies,” said Garret Mehl, head of WHO’s Department of Digital Health and Innovation.
“The WHO Gateway Service also serves as a bridge between regional systems. It can also be used for future vaccination campaigns and home-based registration,” Mehl added.
This identification system will be universal and mandatory, although African countries have opposed the changes the WHO is trying to introduce. Brazil, Iran and Malaysia also disagree.
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