WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the ninth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body

– 18 March 2024
Our co-chairs, Precious and Roland,

Our vice-chairs, Ambassadors Tovar Amr, Kozo Honsei and Dr Viroj,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, and welcome once again to WHO, for this final meeting of the INB.

At the outset, I offer my deep thanks to all colleagues, and especially to the Bureau, for your hard work in INB meetings, and informal discussions, to bring the pandemic agreement to where it is.

You have come a very long way in very short time.

I am very encouraged by the revised draft of the negotiating text, which shows your efforts to find common ground are progressing on many aspects of the agreement.

But we all know there remain critical areas where you are yet to reach consensus.

I thank the four subgroups that have been working since November to find solutions to those issues, under the leadership of the four vice-chairs. Your work is reflected in the revised text of the agreement.

Importantly, you agree on what you are trying to achieve.

You agree on the need for predictable and sustainable financing for pandemic preparedness and response;

You agree on the need for an equitable system for access and benefits;

You agree on the need to engage the private sector.

We would have a much bigger problem if you did not agree on the fundamental objectives of the agreement. But you do.

Now you need to agree on how to achieve these objectives. I have every confidence that you can, and will.

It’s mission-critical for humanity that you do. If we miss this opportunity, we risk losing momentum.

More importantly, we risk leaving the world exposed to the same shortcomings that hampered the global response to COVID-19: a lack of coordination, a lack of sharing information, and a lack of equity.

We cannot allow the cycle of panic and neglect to repeat.

We cannot forget the trauma of the pandemic, and the painful lessons it taught all of us.

We cannot forget the 7 million people we lost – and that’s only the official number, the true toll is much higher;

We cannot forget the people who continue to struggle with long COVID today;

We cannot forget the fear that struck populations;

People unable to say goodbye to their loved ones, who died alone in hospitals;

The strain on overwhelmed health systems and health workers;

The social isolation and mental health impacts;

The economic hardship, with the largest global economic crisis in more than a century, 2 trillion US dollars wiped from the global economy, massive stimulus and increased public debt;

Millions of jobs lost, especially for women, young people and casual workers;

And of course, the political turmoil, domestically and globally.

We cannot forget this. We cannot – we must not – miss this generational opportunity.

As precious said, I think everyone in the room has been affected, and the whole world has been affected.

The task is large and time is short, but the potential benefit cannot be measured, and will endure for generations.

You have the opportunity to shape a future where pandemics are met with decisive action, and of course communities are protected.

Your work has the power to save lives, protect the vulnerable and make the world safer and more resilient.

I urge all of you to rise above your differences, and come together in the spirit of cooperation and solidarity – the principles at the very heart of this agreement.

The World Health Assembly is now just nine weeks away.

Some people have suggested the two-year timeline that Member States set themselves was too ambitious.

But I would like remind you that the WHO Constitution was negotiated in only six months, and the UN Charter took just two months – in an era before Zoom calls and email, when the world was less connected, and communication was much slower.

That means where there is a will, there is a way. There is still time to finalise your negotiations for the World Health Assembly in May.

Last week, Brazil convened a meeting of G20 Health Ministers to discuss the INB, and I was encouraged to hear their commitment to meet the May deadline, to reach consensus, and to compromise.

It’s doable.

My friend Budi Sadikin, Indonesia’s Minister of Health, said during that meeting a good agreement is if everyone is “slightly grumpy” with the outcome, and that he is prepared to be slightly grumpy. We must all be.

As I have said before, everyone will have to give something, or no one will get anything.

Please focus on what you can give; what you can give really honestly. With what you can give, please fill the baskets, and there will be enough to share.

So the issue is, are we really and honestly giving what we can give ot the maximum, and filling the basket so there is enough to share.

There is no us and them; there is only us on one side – the world together – and the threat of pandemics on the other.

Once again, my thanks to all of you for your commitment to this process, and to a safer world for our children and grandchildren.

The WHO Secretariat, and I personally, remain committed to supporting you in any way we can, and I assure you again that I am at your disposal during these two weeks, and I would be happy to help in any way possible. I’m on standby and at your disposal 24/7

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