People protesting with signs that say "healthcare is a human right" and "medicare for all."

Why We Need a Transformative Right-to-Health Pandemic Treaty Now

By Martín Hevia and Ximena Benavides

Acknowledging what went wrong during the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial to any pandemic lawmaking efforts. Chief among these concerns should be the centrality of human rights to global health security.

Health systems that lack universality and inclusivity will always fall short on disease surveillance, detection, and response during health emergencies, at the risk of not reaching all populations. The risk of exclusion exceeds national borders. Regional and global health governance favor the ‘competition of a few’ over (formal) solidarity, which explains why some of the small number of international collaborative initiatives aiming to reach the poorest countries during the pandemic are falling short.

Nonetheless, human rights remain at the periphery of the global health security conversation and the pandemic treaty debate.

Following the call of dozens of world leaders for a new treaty or another legally binding instrument to strengthen pandemic preparedness and response, the World Health Assembly will convene a special session in November 2021 to consider a new binding agreement that could address key failings in the COVID-19 response, including the insufficient international cooperation to implement the International Health Regulations’ (2005) public health capacities. Such an initiative should also serve as the long-awaited international policy-making window to address our health systems’ deep structural problems.

How can a pandemic treaty positively transform our health systems? In this contribution, we outline four core strategies.

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Global connections concept illustration.

21st Century Lawmaking in an Interdependent World

By Caroline E. Foster

A new pandemic instrument should explicitly embrace the three emerging global regulatory standards of due diligence, due regard, and regulatory coherence.

These standards sit at the interface between national and international law to help functionally align the two in ways that will protect and advance shared and competing interests in an interdependent world.

The standards require nations to exercise their regulatory power in certain ways, including demonstrating (i) due regard for the international legal rights and interests of others, (ii) due diligence in the prevention of harm to other States, and (iii) regulatory coherence between governmental measures and their objectives. These international law standards are already implicit in and given effect by the operation of WHO’s current International Health Regulations (IHR) of 2005.

As we develop new pandemic instruments, their presence should be made increasingly explicit. Giving a stronger profile to the standards will help generate new political impetus and new legal bases for implementation of world health law, and fit it to 21st century application.

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