World Health Organization and the global response to the next pandemic

Earlier this month, the WHO reaffirmed its schedule for securing a global agreement that would reconstitute the international body and give it considerably more power and authority in the case of another global health crisis. Photo credit: AFP/Fabrice Coffrini


The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently in the process of redefining the role it will command during the next pandemic. The outcome of this process is to have the WHO become a global authority, empowered to dictate a global response to manage a health crisis. Although most Canadians are unaware, Canadian officials are engaged in the WHO process of transformation and the federal government is on record as supporting the development of a pandemic treaty under the WHO. 

There are two parts to the WHO’s transformation which are occurring concurrently. First, 194 countries are involved in drafting a pandemic treaty that will define the WHO bureaucracy, its financing and governance. Second, WHO is facilitating an intergovernmental group to consider amendments to its regulations that will redefine the scope and authority of WHO actions as well as the responsibilities of its member countries. Taken together, should the draft proposals pass as they are presently written, there will be a fundamental shift of authority in the relationship between the WHO and its member countries. 

Here is the necessary background to understand the process now underway in Geneva, Switzerland. WHO was created within the United Nations as a body that would advise on the international coordination of global health issues and resources. In 1969, the WHO adopted a set of International Health Regulations (IHR) to define its members’ responsibilities guiding global responses to public health threats (i.e. polio, AIDS). As a result of China’s SARS outbreak, the IHR were revised in 2005 to create a stronger WHO that would ensure health emergencies could be more quickly acted upon by its members. IHR now demands that WHO countries must detect, assess, report out and respond to health emergencies that have the potential to spread internationally. 

Fast forward to the present and the plans to transform WHO. With respect to the pandemic treaty, on March 3, 2023 WHO issued a media release reaffirming their schedule for securing a global agreement that would reconstitute the international body. The draft accord is to be produced for consideration and agreement at the World Health Assembly in May 2024. A co-chair of this process, Precious Matsoso of South Africa, states in the release: “That we have been able to move forward so decisively [with the COVID-19 pandemic response] is testimony to the global consensus that exists on the need to work together and to strengthen WHO’s and the international community’s ability to protect the world from pandemic threats.”

With respect to the new regulations, in late 2022, WHO presented a rewrite of the 2005 IHR with over 300 amendments. The overhaul of its regulations were inspired by the knowledge gained in the WHO’s management of COVID-19 and, in part, to ensure greater equity in the global response to public health emergencies. The IHR amendments also will be brought forward in 2024. 

The whole WHO process is pedantically bureaucratic. However, the devil is in the details, especially with the IHR amendments, which considerably strengthens the WHO’s authority at a time of a pandemic.  Consider the possible outcomes of these amendments: 

  • WHO Director General is empowered to independently declare health emergencies
  • WHO is to assume responsibility when it identifies “potential” rather than actual health emergencies
  • WHO Director General is granted control over the production and allocation of medication during a pandemic
  • WHO will have the authority to override health measure decisions made by individual countries 
  • WHO will establish extensive surveillance processes to regularly review and verify compliance
  • WHO can censor what it considers misinformation and disinformation
  • WHO is permitted to share countries’ data without consent 
  • IHR recommendations are changed from “non-binding” to “mandatory” instructions that its member countries must follow and implement; in essence transforming the advisor nature of the IHR to that of dictum

On the last point, IHR recommendations during COVID-19 included border closures, travel restrictions, quarantines, medical examinations, and medication of individuals – which in the case of COVID-19 was required vaccine injections.

Reactions to the WHO Pandemic Treaty and the New Regulations 

In the European Union, Australia, Britain, and the United States, vocal critics of the WHO’s transformation, claim that the new regulations and the treaty that binds the 194 member countries is an authoritative overreach and an assault on a nation’s sovereignty. Many decry WHO’s management of COVID-19, specifically its narrative of fear and the enormous costs associated with its vaccine recommendations. 

Last month in the U.S. Senate, 17 Republicans introduced legislation that demanded the pandemic treaty be required to pass the Senate. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson stated, “The WHO, along with our federal health agencies, failed miserably in their response to COVID-19. This failure should not be rewarded with a new international treaty that would increase the WHO’s power at the expense of American sovereignty.”

In Canada, there has been little public discussion relating to WHO and no legislative review of Canada’s commitments to the WHO process. MP Leslyn Lewis has raised the matter in the House of Commons and she has voiced concerns publicly on the matter. In an erudite information backgrounder on WHO and Canada’s involvement with the global health body, MP Lewis states: “Of greatest concern, the treaty could give the WHO the legal ability to direct Canada’s future pandemic response, including mandating any range of measures from lockdowns to social distancing to specific vaccines approved for distribution within Canada… This means that if such a treaty is ratified, the WHO becomes the ultimate authority over not only what gets declared a pandemic but also how countries need to respond to the pandemic.”

Lewis has sounded the alarm bell: “Canada must be careful to not sign anything that could give away our sovereignty on health care, even if there is tremendous international pressure to do so for the sake of pandemic preparedness. It would also be irresponsible of this government to consider signing onto a legally binding treaty governing future pandemic response when Canada has not had a national inquiry into our own pandemic policies and outcomes. We can’t prepare for the future when we haven’t learned the lessons from the past two years.”

Meanwhile, the WHO intergovernmental group convenes again in April to work on the IHR amendments. Through this year the WHO process will proceed (likely without any public notice) and all involved expect that their deadlines to produce the pandemic treaty and new regulations will be met in time for the World Health Assembly in May 2024.

Before Canada’s Prime Minister or another senior government representative affixes their signature to the final WHO documents, Canadians need to better understand what the country is signing onto. 

An excellent starting point for learning about the WHO process is the overview written by David Bell, public health physician and biotech consultant in global health, a senior scholar at Brownstone Institute and a former medical officer and scientist at the WHO. Bell’s overview is found here: What the WHO is Actually Proposing

The latest news and insightful commentary on the WHO pandemic treaty (which you cannot find in Canadian legacy media) is found in The Epoch Times

Another suggestion to gain an appreciation on the impact the WHO transformation may have on Canada, is to read MP Leslyn Lewis’s information backgrounder (albeit it is dated Fall 2022 and does not contain the more recent events relating to the WHO process). Lewis’s document is entitled, The WHO Pandemic Treaty

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