WHO chief says ‘Disease X’ preparation treaty in jeopardy, loss of sovereignty is ‘fake news’

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The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that the organization’s May deadline for getting a global pandemic treaty agreed to prepare for “Disease X” is in jeopardy and any notion that the accord would cede national sovereignty is the result of “fake news, lies, and conspiracy theories.” 

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus complained that “several outstanding issues” still needed to be resolved by governments and that time was “very short” to find consensus. World leaders and officials had previously committed to a May deadline but Tedros, who goes by his first name, said he fears that the cutoff date is at risk of not being met.

“I must say that I’m concerned that member states may not make that commitment,” Tedros said in front of the WHO’s executive board in Geneva on Monday.

“A failure to deliver the pandemic agreement and the IHR (International Health Regulations) amendments will be a missed opportunity for which future generations may not forgive us,” Tedros said.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus wants a pandemic treaty agreed to prepare for Disease x. (Lian Yi/Xinhua via Getty Images)


The IHR is a legally binding agreement that requires countries – including the U.S. – to conduct surveillance for potential international health threats of all kinds and report those to the WHO in a timely manner.

Tedros told the World Economic Forum last week that COVID-19 was the first Disease X and called on nations to sign up to the treaty so that there can be a collective response should another pandemic strike. 

Disease X is a hypothetical “placeholder” virus that has not yet been formed, but scientists say it could be 20 times deadlier than COVID-19. It was added to the WHO’s short list of pathogens for research in 2017 that could cause a “serious international epidemic,” according to a 2022 WHO press release.

“Over the past two years, the intergovernmental negotiating body and the working group on amendments to the IHR, have been moving toward a common goal: to build a healthier, safer, and more equitable world,” Tedros said. 

“This is our chance – maybe our only chance – to get this done, because we have the momentum.”

Tedros did not mention Disease X by name in the speech, but warned of “emerging threats” and said a treaty was urgently needed to strengthen “pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”

Person holding syringe with WHO logo

An illustrative image of a person holding a medical syringe and a COVID-19 vaccine vial in front of the World Health Organization logo displayed on a screen. Tedros argued that by putting the agreement in place, nations would have timely access to critical response products, such as diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.   (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


Tedros argued that by putting the agreement in place, nations would have timely access to critical response products, such as diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. 

“This is the only way we can make the world safer for our children, and our children’s children – through working together,” Tedros said. “It is difficult to overstate the importance and urgency of this work.”

Critics, including Advancing American Freedom (AAF), argue that the legally binding treaty would cede sovereignty to a global organization and that it amounts to a power grab. The AAF is a non-profit advocacy group founded by former Vice President Mike Pence.

“The [WHO] proposal to consolidate power and erode the United States of America of its sovereignty through the WHO Pandemic Preparedness Treaty is untenable and raises serious and significant questions regarding America’s independence of action and ability to respond to global pandemics,” a letter published by the AAF on Tuesday reads.

Furthermore, the AAF points out that the treaty — ostensibly intended to save lives through international prioritization of the best medical practices — emphasizes race and “equity” before almost every other value in its “general principles and approaches.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence stands on debate stage

Former US Vice President Mike Pence’s Advancing American Freedom (AAF) non-profit argues that the legally binding treaty would cede sovereignty to a global organization. (Robyn Beck)


“It presents ‘equity’ as its third general principle, ahead of responsibility, transparency, accountability, and science and evidence – principles that are magnitudes more important than ‘equity’ during a global pandemic,” the letter reads.

Tedros, in his Monday speech, dismissed suggestions the pact would result in countries losing sovereignty.

“There are those who claim that the pandemic agreement and IHR will cede sovereignty to WHO and give the WHO Secretariat the power to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates on countries. You know this is fake news, lies, and conspiracy theories,” Tedros said. 

“These claims are completely false. You know that the agreement will give WHO no such powers, because you are writing it.”

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