Open letter to UK politicians on the WHO and the pandemic agreement

As leaders of UK universities deeply involved in public health efforts around the world, we have been shocked and appalled by recent disturbing attacks on the World Health Organization (WHO). The misinformation being spread in these attacks is both irresponsible and a dangerous distraction when the real enemy is the next pandemic, not the health professionals and organisations working 24/7 to prevent it.  

Since it was founded in 1948 the WHO has been at the heart of coordinating the efforts of individual sovereign national governments to tackle the most formidable global health challenges of our time, everything from COVID-19 to Ebola, SARS to MERS, malaria, and meningitis. Our researchers and staff have stood shoulder to shoulder with WHO experts on the frontline of fighting outbreaks and pandemics.

The WHO is not a threat to the sovereignty of Member States such as the UK or their ability to make their own health policy. Instead, it provides a vital global infrastructure to help governments, health agencies, and communities respond to health emergencies. 

The pandemic agreement currently being discussed is an attempt to learn from the lessons of the past and coordinate a global response to the next global threat - as we learned the hard way during COVID-19, lethal viruses take no notice of national borders. 

The final detail of any pandemic agreement must be right for the UK, but cooperating with other nations and sharing resources where appropriate is an essential part of fighting a pandemic. This includes vaccine equity, and ensuring we can get life-saving vaccines to where they are needed, on the frontline of disease outbreaks helping to stop the next pandemic in its tracks before it can threaten other countries, including ours.

If we had one message for UK politicians wavering in their support for an agreement it would be this: don’t waste this historic opportunity, find a way to work with other nations to protect our shared health before the next pandemic arrives.

Professor Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor & President, University of Warwick
Professor David Lalloo, Director and Professor of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of Edinburgh
Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow
Professor Liam Smeeth, Director, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Professor Jeremy Tavaré, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, University of Bristol