With negotiations on a knife’s edge, the co-chairs of the Global Council on Inequality, AIDS and Pandemics have warned that a failure to include binding obligations to inequality-responsive measures in the Agreement would be a failure to learn the lessons from today’s pandemics, including AIDS and COVID-19.  

GENEVA, 24 May 2024—The co-chairs of an independent council of experts have urged world leaders to empower their negotiators within the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body to continue their work during and after the 77th World Health Assembly and forge a Pandemic Agreement with clear commitments to protect all of humanity.   

The statement by the co-chairs of the Global Council on Inequality, AIDS and Pandemics—Joseph Stiglitz, Monica Geingos and Michael Marmot—congratulated the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body for producing draft texts that make important references to equity, human rights and the right to health throughout the text. However, they noted that turning these foundational principles into reality requires a final text with binding commitments to inequality-responsive measures. They warned that a failure to produce a strong Agreement would be a failure to learn the lessons from today’s pandemics, including AIDS and COVID-19. 

“Millions of additional lives were lost during the COVID-19 pandemic because of unequal access to life-saving vaccines,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist and professor at Columbia University. “Lack of access to medicines in the Global South hurt people’s health, and the economy, globally. We cannot continue a negative sum game—increased profits of pharmaceutical companies are dwarfed by the losses of people in the Global South.” 

“The path to a better, safer, and more equitable pandemic prevention, preparedness and response is known: widespread local and regional production of vaccines, tests, and treatments, and the open sharing of the knowledge and technology behind them,” Stiglitz said. “Obligations for countries to rapidly share information on pathogens must be linked to a concurrent commitment to share in the benefits of science.” 

The co-chairs expressed concern that recent drafts of the Pandemic Agreement did not make firm commitments to increase financing for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, especially in developing countries where health systems are in urgent need of strengthening. 

“Efforts to channel desperately needed financial resources to developing countries during the peak of the COVID-19 foundered horribly, and the global AIDS response remains chronically under-funded,” said Council Co-Chair Monica Geingos, former First Lady of the Republic of Namibia. “Post-COVID crisis efforts to fund pandemic preparedness are fragmented and ill-suited to emergency responses. The Pandemic Agreement requires concrete commitments to mobilize and distribute rapid-response funding as soon as an outbreak with pandemic potential is identified.”    

The Council co-chairs also warned that countries could miss an opportunity to reinforce global and national efforts to address the underlying causes that make the world more vulnerable to pandemics and intensify their impact. Breaking the inequality-pandemic cycle requires addressing social determinants—the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, learn, work and age—at a local, national, and international level. 

“To make the world more pandemic resilient, the Pandemic Agreement must commit states to concrete action on social determinants,” said Council co-chair Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London. “During pandemics, states must pursue social and economic policies that reduce exposure of vulnerable groups and protect them from harms of isolation and illness. This includes addressing the barriers to preventative, diagnostic and curative services particularly experienced by vulnerable groups.” 

Citing a strong body of evidence from the AIDS and COVID-19 pandemic responses, the co-chairs stated that community participation and engagement is critical to addressing the underlying inequalities that exacerbate pandemics. 

“The Pandemic Agreement must guarantee the full participation of communities in efforts to prevent, detect and respond to outbreaks by obligating governments to finance people-centered, integrated, community responses, including community-based education and outreach,” Monica Geingos said.  

Read statement – Council co-chair’s statement on efforts to negotiate a pandemic agreement