Ignore misinformation and unite against pandemic threat, LSHTM's Director warns

Attacks on draft pandemic agreement and the WHO threaten to undermine world’s preparedness for next pandemic
The 2014 Ebola outbreak spread across West Africa. Pictured: Dr Abdulmajid Suleiman Musa shows how a correctly prepared PPE suit should look. Keffi, Nasarawa state in Nigeria. Credit: Louis Leeson/LSHTM.

Professor Liam Smeeth, the Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), has warned world leaders involved in negotiating the pandemic agreement to ignore false claims circulating about what is under discussion and the role of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Speaking ahead of Monday’s World Health Assembly in Geneva, Professor Smeeth said: “There are activists who want to peddle misinformation about the pandemic agreement (‘treaty’) when both the WHO and UK Government ministers are in total agreement that sovereign national decision-making on health threats would never be impacted. 

“The pandemic agreement is negotiated between the Member States themselves which retain the sovereign right to legislate health policies as they see fit - this is about the countries of the world coming together to fight the next pandemic. To suggest anything else is utter nonsense. 

“By listening to such misinformation, we are at risk of abandoning all the lessons we learned during the pandemic about the vital importance of working together to combat a global disease threat. Lethal viruses take no notice of national borders or political grandstanding.” 

Drawing on LSHTM’s experiences responding to previous pandemics, such as Ebola and COVID-19, Professor Smeeth said:

“As I and others working in public health have repeatedly said, we don’t know what the next deadly outbreak will be or when the world will face a new pandemic. We do know that every one of us is at risk from the numerous threats that exist. Whether it’s bird flu in the US, MERS in Saudi Arabia or an unknown Disease X yet to emerge, coordination across borders is vital. Making sure everyone has access to vaccines is vital. Because our shared future depends on our shared health.  

“To stand a fighting chance in the future, we need to unite behind these priorities against the target we all have in common; the next pandemic.

“Today we live in a global community and, if COVID-19 has proved one thing, it’s that we must face these threats together. We cannot protect our health without acknowledging that the complexity of our interconnected world is creating new and evermore unpredictable challenges. 

“A global threat demands a global response and the WHO is at the heart of coordinating the efforts of governments, health agencies, and communities around the world to stop outbreaks in their tracks before they can become another pandemic.”

Professor Smeeth urged all those involved in the negotiations to seize this historic opportunity and enhance the UK’s health security. He said:

“Agreeing to work together does not equate to giving up power. Indeed, it would be hugely damaging to not grab this opportunity, find ways to defend ourselves, and to commit to sharing data, know-how and resources on a global scale while we can.”

LSHTM’s significant contributions to research into COVID-19 and public understanding of the pandemic were recognised with a Queen’s Anniversary Prize. Find out more about LSHTM’s COVID-19 response.

As part of this campaign LSHTM has also coordinated an open letter on this issue with other leading UK universities. Read: 'Open letter to UK politicians on the WHO and the pandemic agreement'.

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