China flexes its muscles at the United Nations

EU pandemic resolution adopted at World Health Assembly

People grieve a Covid-19 victim in the city of Manaos, Brazil, on May 14 2020. Brazil has recorded a total of 254,220 confirmed cases, overtaking Britain to become the country with the third-highest number of infections behind the United States and Russia. Keystone / Raphael Alves

World Health Organization (WHO) member states have endorsed a key European Union resolution that calls for fair access to coronavirus vaccines and treatments, and a review of WHO’s handling of the pandemic. 

This content was published on May 19, 2020 - 16:39
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At a virtual meeting of the WHO's decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, none of the 194 member states – including the United States - raised objections on Tuesday to the resolution tabled by the EU on behalf of 140 countries, including China and Japan.

The resolution encourages the global health community to work closer together to ensure wide and equitable access worldwide to Covid-19 medicines and vaccines. The text urges states to collaborate to develop treatments and vaccines via “voluntary pooling and licensing of patents to facilitate timely, equitable and affordable access to them”. It also calls for an independent evaluation of the WHO's performance as soon as possible.

Ahead of the vote, the Federal Office for Public Health told swissinfo.ch that Switzerland - home to pharmaceutical giants Roche and Novartis – had participated actively in the lengthy negotiations and accepted the draft. 

“Switzerland is committed to a coordinated and united international response to overcome the current crisis,” said spokesperson Daniel Dauwalder.

China and US 

China previously opposed calls for a review of the origin and spread of the coronavirus, but China's President Xi Jinping signalled on Monday that Beijing would accept an impartial evaluation of the global response, once the pandemic is under control.

In a statement issued just after the text was adopted, the US said the resolution was “an important contribution” to the global pandemic response. It also welcomed the call for a review of the WHO’s response to ensure “a complete and transparent understanding of the source of the virus, timeline of events, early discussions, and the decision-making process for the WHO’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

While it did not block the consensus resolution, the US said it dissociates itself from paragraphs guaranteeing the rights of poor countries to waive intellectual property rules to obtain medicines in an emergency and guaranteeing reproductive and sexual healthcare in the pandemic. 

Overnight US President Donald Trump, who has accused the WHO of backing China, ratcheted up the pressure by tweeting a letter threatening to quit the Geneva-based UN health body and permanently halt funding unless it commits within 30 days to reforms.

During the virtual assembly, many member states expressed support for the WHO. On Monday in her opening address Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga pledged her country's "full support and cooperation" to its leader.

"Director-General as you go through this crisis be assured that you have the Switzerland's full support and cooperation," said the Swiss president, while urging member states to "act together" in the crisis.

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