Since February 2023, with the presentation of the text of the World Health Organization (WHO) Pandemic Treaty table, Public Services International (PSI) has been working to influence the negotiations conducted by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB). In the Inter-American region, we have worked to define, together with our affiliates, especially those in the health sector, strategies for lobbying governments to include workers' demands in the negotiations.
So far, we understand that our efforts to make workers' voices heard have had a positive impact - government delegations have sought to include important points in the text. However, many of the issues presented were not mentioned or addressed adequately in the drafts that have come to public attention. Many countries and civil society organizations are expressing concern about the weakening of measures to address unacceptable inequalities in access to vaccines, therapies and other health technologies.
These were the debates that permeated the meeting held by the PSI in August with representatives of its health sector affiliates in Brazil. As well as finding out how the Treaty negotiations are going, the meeting was an opportunity to define which demands should be a priority in the advocacy strategy with the Brazilian representatives taking part in the negotiations at world level.
In June, the PSI organized a workshop with its Chilean affiliates, Fenpruss, Confusam and ANEF. The entities organized a strategy to take forward the main demands of workers, focusing mainly on networking campaigns. The following month, in Colombia, at an event to discuss the reform of the country's health system, ISP and affiliates learned about the treaty process and took the opportunity to take pictures with posters, demanding that labor and union rights be included in the text of the future instrument for preparing for, preventing and responding to future health emergencies.
In September, during SUBRAC North America, the regional health coordinator for Interamericas and ISP Subregional Secretary for North America, Euan Gibb, brought up the topic of the Pandemic Treaty for discussion. Affiliates from Canada and the USA took an interest in the topic and showed dissatisfaction when they learned that their governments were blocking measures to suspend intellectual property rights.
What is the position of the region's governments?
At the end of March, at an event organized by the PSI with health sector affiliates from the Andean region on the treaty, representatives of the governments of Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia presented their actions and demands during the negotiation rounds.
Brazilian representative Carolina El Debs, a diplomat based in Geneva, pointed out that the Zero Draft contains some interesting proposals such as equity as a structuring principle of the text, the supply chain network (as a concrete measure to guarantee access to health technologies in times of pandemic). He also pointed out that there is great heterogeneity in the productive capacity of countries, which is important for the development of technical capacity in developing countries. The representative from Colombia, special advisor to the Ministry of Health, Francisco Rossi, reflected on the innovation model in the biochemical-pharmaceutical area and questioned how it is possible to continue with the same monopoly-based model, even after the experience of the pandemic.
even after the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Intellectual property rules create artificial scarcity so that companies can charge high prices. Bolivia's deputy health minister, Dr. Maria Rene Castro, then highlighted aspects such as the possibility that genomic surveillance could lead to discrimination. For Castro, this information should be used to generate knowledge and not to create problems.
PSI affiliates meet with governments in the region
In March 2023, Mexican affiliate SNTSS held an important meeting with the government of its country, in which the main points of concern identified by the PSI were raised. The issues were very well received by the Mexican government, especially on the need to improve the language regarding the protection of health workers. In addition, representatives of the Mexican government were open to discussing the automatic suspension of intellectual property rights, despite the well-known opposition of the countries of the Global North.
In July, together with Argentinian affiliates FESPROSA and UPCN, the PSI met with officials from the Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs to seek information on the negotiation process. The Argentine government officials made it very clear that the country is committed to advancing better language in the text to protect health workers, as well as protecting public investment in research and development, in addition to including clauses that guarantee the suspension of intellectual property rights in the event of a new health emergency.
In September, the Subregional Secretary for Brazil, João Cayres, and the Regional Advisor on Health Equity for Interamerica, Pedro Villardi, met with representatives of the International Advisory Office of the Brazilian Ministry of Health and the Global Health Division of Itamaraty, along with the affiliated organizations CNTS, FNE, Confetam, Sindsep, Sindsaúde-SP and SEESP to assess the work carried out by the INB Negotiating Group, whose vice-presidency is held by the Brazilian ambassador in Geneva, Minister Tovar da Silva Nunes.
Although the draft has sections that cover all relevant concerns regarding a future pandemic, as well as strengthening and sustaining the existing global health architecture, the clauses and provisions of many sections lack clear commitments from member states. At many points, the language fails to hold member states accountable for crucial measures needed to achieve the goal of robust and resilient health systems prepared for future health emergencies. The next INB meeting will be held between December 4-6, 2023 and the final text is expected to be approved in May 2024 during the 77th World Health Assembly held by the WHO.