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US fully engaged in discussions towards new global pandemic accord

Washington is fully engaged in discussions towards a new global pandemic accord, the top US health official said Tuesday, voicing confidence that negotiations could succeed, but warning time was running out.

The World Health Organisation’s member states have begun negotiations towards an international agreement aimed at ensuring the world is better equipped to prevent another pandemic, or respond more effectively if one hits.

The process is still in the early stages, but the aim is to reach agreement in time for the next World Health Assembly, in May 2024.

“I think we’ll get an accord in place, if everyone realises that… this next pandemic, this next health threat, is probably not far away,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

“We can get this done,” he told journalists in Geneva on the sidelines of the 2023 World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body.

“I just hope that everyone realises the window is far smaller than people think to try to get it done.”

The WHO earlier this month declared that after more than three years of wreaking worldwide devastation, Covid-19 no longer constitutes a global health emergency.

But it is widely acknowledged that the next pandemic threat is looming, and countries agree they should work together to ward off future catastrophes.

The United States tends to be wary about ratifying international treaties, and concerns have been raised that it will not be on board at the end of the process.

But Becerra rejected that. “I don’t see that there is a way to reach an agreement if the US isn’t on board,” he said.

“We want to reach out to everyone so that they know we’re going to be a part of it… The US is ready.” But while President Joe Biden’s administration may be invested in the talks, observers say the possibility that former president Donald Trump might win the presidency again next year adds urgency to completing the negotiations.

But Becerra stressed that “the fear that should drive us is that millions of people could die if we have another pandemic. And the fear that we are caught flat-footed.” AFP

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