PSI calls for Inclusion of Decent Work for Health Workers in Pandemic Treaty

As the WHO body in charge of negotiating a new instrument on pandemic prevention, preparation and response meets for the third time, PSI called on governments to include crucial issues that have been missed out in the conceptual zero draft up for discussion from 5-7 December in Geneva.

As the WHO body in charge of negotiating a new instrument on pandemic prevention, preparation and response meets for the third time, PSI called on governments to include crucial issues that have been missed out in the conceptual zero draft up for discussion from 5-7 December in Geneva.

The article on “strengthening and sustaining a skilled and competent health workforce” is inadequate to respond to the needs of health workers.

The INB chairs from South Africa and the Netherlands informed Members States, PSI, and other Non-State Actors in official relations with WHO, in a briefing that this is the last opportunity to include elements that will be put together in the conceptual draft for negotiation next year. We called on our affiliates around the world to reach out to their governments to echo our demand for decent work to be included in the document.

The roles that we as health workers played in the COVID-19 response have been applauded by world leaders, yet, the article on “strengthening and sustaining a skilled and competent health workforce” is inadequate to respond to the needs of health workers. Decent work for health workers is a requirement for quality health services and strong health systems. In addition, we have learned that in a context where we are learning about a virus as we stand with infected or potentially infected patients, the precautionary principle is paramount to protect the health workforce standing at the front lines. 

We call for the inclusion of decent work for health workers as well as the application of the precautionary principle in policies that affect health workers' exposure to risk. In addition, we asked for a dedicated article that provides measures to ensure decent work for the health workforce. This should ensure the explicit inclusion of improved terms and conditions of work, adequate health worker-to-patient ratios, and the labour rights provided under ILO Convention 149.

PSI is also concerned by the lack of inclusion of explicit provisions for prevention. This is a yawning gap, and we call for including explicit provisions for promoting prevention as the point of departure for preparedness. 

We strongly support a legally binding commitment to time-bound waivers of protection of intellectual property rights on pandemic response products during pandemics.

Many lives would have been saved in the COVID-19 pandemic if intellectual property rights on vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics had been waived, as proposed by India and South Africa at the WTO - a proposal that was later backed by more than 100 countries during close to 20 months of debates.

This is a major lesson for the world, and to ensure this situation is avoided in any future pandemic, we strongly support a legally binding commitment to time-bound waivers of protection of intellectual property rights on pandemic response products during pandemics (as proposed in Art 7.2 a)(iv), and call in addition to the inclusion of the creation of a permanent mechanism that would automatically trigger this suspension when a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is declared. 

Finally, while pandemics are primarily global health emergencies, they inevitably snowball into economic crises, in which low- and middle-income countries bear the greatest burden. Prevention of pandemics as well requires a global financial architecture which ensures that these countries have enough resources to inject into building strong and resilient universal public health systems.

We are concerned that the principles that underlie the content on financing are weak. We demand the inclusion of the principle of financial justice or the application of the principle of equity to financing for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. 

We will be monitoring the outcomes of the discussion and putting pressure on governments to pay homage to the lives of our colleagues that were lost in this struggle by including in this treaty strong provisions that finally put people over profit.