World Health Organisation / International Pandemic Prevention Treaty: An Open Letter to the State President

By Gerhard Papenfus

Dear President


On 19 February 2021, the Group of Seven (G7) issued the following statement:

“We will work with the WHO, G20 and others, especially through the Global Health Summit in Rome, to bolster global health and health security architecture for pandemic preparedness, including through health financing and rapid response mechanisms, by strengthening the 'One Health' approach and Universal Health Coverage, and exploring the potential value of a global health treaty.”

The consideration and planning of a global health treaty regarding the future response by the WHO, and by implication its state members, have been surfacing on various platforms and in numerous publications. On two separate occasions, the European Union (EU) clearly supported the drafting and acceptance of such an international convention regarding the world’s future responses to a pandemic. On 25 February 2021, the EU, stated that “global multilateral cooperation is essential to address current and future health threats. We are committed to advancing global health security, including by strengthening the World Health Organization and working towards an international treaty on pandemics within its framework”. Thereafter, on 20 May 2021, a press release was issued by the EU stating: “the Council adopted today a decision to support the launch of negotiations for an international treaty on the fight against pandemics.” 

These theoretical plans seem to be rapidly converting into reality, as clearly illustrated by the EU Council adopting a decision to authorise the opening of negotiations for an international agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, on 3 March 2022. The intergovernmental negotiating body, tasked with drafting and negotiating this international instrument, will hold its next meeting by 1 August 2022, to discuss progress on a working draft. It will then deliver a progress report to the 76th World Health Assembly in 2023, with the aim to adopt the instrument by 2024.

Bearing in mind that South Africa is a signatory to the International Health Regulations (2005) and a state member of the WHO, consequently bound to their decisions, we request clarity and confirmation from you on the extent to which South Africa is involved in the creation of said ‘pandemic treaty’ and whether you will sign it, should it come to life. 

South Africa is a sovereign nation, as embedded in our Constitution, however, according to section 231 of our Constitution and articles 19 to 22 of the WHO Constitution, South Africa will be bound to any and all regulations issued by means of the ‘pandemic prevention treaty’ upon your signing thereof. 

Mr President, this could possibly undermine the sovereignty of South Africa’s Government over our own health, health measures and executive decisions, to the detriment of our people. From the clear and abundant failures of the WHO during the current pandemic, South Africans cannot condone your further knee-bending to this power-hungry, financial monopoly serving organisation. 

Your swift response will be appreciated.