The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) proposed Pandemic Treaty and amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR) will hand the international health body unprecedented powers to declare pandemics, lockdowns and vaccination mandates, with the force of international law, leading experts have told MPs.
Speaking to U.K. lawmakers at a meeting of the Pandemic Response and Recovery All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), Dr. David Bell, a former WHO scientific and medical officer, and Professor Garrett Wallace Brown, Chair in Global Health Policy at the University of Leeds and Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborative Centre on Health Systems and Health Security, said that the changes would fundamentally alter the relationship between WHO and member states and put vital health programmes at risk.
Dr. Bell explained that the two agreements, as currently drafted, will hand the WHO the authority to order measures including significant financial contributions by individual states, censorship of scientific debate, lockdowns, travel restrictions, forced medical examinations and mandatory vaccinations during a public health emergency of its own declaring.
The WHO was established in 1946 with the best of intentions, to help coordinate responses to major health issues and advise governments accordingly. Over the decades we have seen a significant change in direction as funding streams have shifted to private ‘specified funding’, particularly from private donors. This has led to the WHO becoming a far more centralised and externally-directed body in which private and corporate funders shape and direct programmes. What we have also seen shifting is the definition of a health emergency, making it extremely broad. It is a worrying background against which the IHR amendments and the Treaty are being negotiated.
These pandemic instruments are founded on a fallacy regarding the frequency and impact of pandemics and would, if ratified, fundamentally change the relationship between the WHO and national governments and their citizens. Of particular concern are the amendments to the IHR which constitute a dangerous increase in power and authority bestowed on just one person. The Director-General would be able to proclaim health emergencies, whether real or potential, on any health-related matter that they, influenced by their private and corporate funders, say is a threat. The WHO would be able to issue legally-binding directions to member states and their citizens. In light of the catastrophic harms the WHO’s policies have caused during this pandemic, probably greater than the virus itself, the potential economic and health-related harms of such power cannot be overstated. There is a vast pandemic industry waiting for these buttons to be pushed and I am in no doubt that policymakers should reject WHO’s pandemic proposals.
Professor Brown and his research team has been advising the WHO and others on the $31.1 billion a year plan for pandemic preparedness and whether it is defensible or even feasible. Vital public health programmes are suffering globally as a result of the misguided shift to focus on post-Covid pandemic preparedness, he warned.
The post-Covid policy environment has triggered a remarkable grab by various institutions to capture the pandemic preparedness and response agenda and its corresponding financial capacities. This raises concerns about the legitimacy of the policy processes in terms of the representativeness of the emerging pandemic preparedness agenda. One particular concern involves the $31.1bn per year price tag, particularly the more than $24bn a year required from low-and middle income countries. The concern is whether this number is appropriate or even feasible. Nations need to be able to address their individual public health needs, to encourage better population health and resilience and the sort of sums they will be required to contribute to pandemic preparedness could threaten to divert resources from where they are most needed. We already saw this happen during the pandemic and there is evidence to suggest this has continued.
For example, tracking Overseas Development Aid for health from 2019 to the present shows that vital and established preventive public health programmes have suffered globally as a result of policy shifts to Covid and post-Covid pandemic preparedness and response. Evidence shows that malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, AIDS, reproductive health and non-communicable diseases have been impacted by resource shifting. Overseas Development Aid saw a 34% decrease in funding for basic health and a 10% decrease for basic nutrition in developing countries. The fear is that emerging pandemic preparedness instruments will be a continuation of this trend, which will have significant population health effects.
Listening to the speakers, APPG Co-Chair, Conservative MP and former Government minister Esther McVey said:
In April, I spoke at the Westminster Hall debate on this topic [and] much more parliamentary scrutiny and debate is needed. As the COVID-19 Inquiry begins to hear evidence, how we prepare for future pandemics must be carefully considered. We have heard concerns about the expansion of the WHO’s powers, the encroachment on national sovereignty and the rights of the individual and the sheer cost of the plans. These are vast amounts of public money to prepare for pandemics when we have a proportional, evidence-based pandemic plan, formulated to prevent the avoidable suffering and loss we have now experienced. The Government abandoned those plans in early 2020, despite knowing the likely outcomes.
The Treaty and IHR amendments could cement a disastrous approach to future pandemics. It seems unwise to give an unelected and largely privately-funded supranational body power over sovereignty and individual rights with seemingly no oversight. My constituents are concerned, not least because the WHO has a poor track record when it comes to pandemics. I question whether we want to hand such authority to the WHO, whose focus in recent decades has moved away from its laudable founding principles, to blunt instruments such as lockdowns and a one-size fits all approach to public health with the terrible consequences we are now seeing.
APPG Co-Chair, Labour MP Graham Stringer MP, added:
I am opposed to these plans as they could represent a huge expansion of the WHO’s powers, to the detriment of public health. The authority it could gain would surely pressure countries into complying with diktats of its choosing. We saw the unaccountable and extreme influence of China on the WHO when it refused to investigate the Wuhan laboratory and the origin of SARS-CoV-2. It’s also worrying to see the increase in commercial interests within the WHO.
We experienced the WHO’s unscientific volte face on mask wearing, despite there being no strong evidence that they had suddenly become effective. It was an entirely political decision, much like many of the decisions taken by the U.K. Government, often in the absence of any real parliamentary scrutiny. We appear to have learnt nothing from that experience, in terms of both the eye-watering cost and the vast collateral damage, which the Treaty and amendments seem set to enshrine in the WHO’s principles. If these plans come to be, we would be handing over powers to an organisation with less clinical and scientific expertise than our own.
It may not be clear how the WHO will enforce these powers but we know the potential is there as we lived through it, and not just with Covid but also swine flu previously. The ease with which unelected bureaucrats can dictate damaging public health policy and erode democracy, civil liberties and individual rights is something we never want to happen again. This is why these plans demand robust debate, and an open review in Parliament and in public. As Sweden did during the pandemic, and is an example to us all, we must make our own decisions about how we manage public health threats in this country.