24 trade unions representing 7 million health and care workers sign letter with demands for WHO Pandemic Treaty
Feb 9, 2024
Public Services International (PSI) affiliates in the Americas sign letter to present their concerns regarding the World Health Organization (WHO) Pandemic Treaty at the eighth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB8). The letter will be sent to the governments of the countries of the region showing the strength of health workers.
Our unions are following the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) process to draft and negotiate an international agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, the WHO Pandemic Treaty. We have done this work with the support of Public Services International (PSI), the global union federation representing public services, health and care workers across the world, to which we are affiliated.
We are concerned that the seventh round of discussion of the INB (INB7) held in November and December 2023 did not progress adequately on key priorities for health and care workers. We urge your Ministry to address the points shared below during the INB8 session from February 19th to March 1st 2024.
In addition, we seek an appointment with you to be debriefed on the outcomes of INB7. With your support, this future instrument will build on the learnings and experience of health and care workers who were at the front lines during the Covid-19 pandemic.
UPHOLD THE RIGHT TO DECENT WORK FOR HEALTH AND CARE WORKERS
While we welcome the inclusion of an article on the health and care workforce in the current draft of the negotiating text, we are disappointed by its limited progress. Safe workers save lives, yet, language that prioritised adequate protective equipment for frontline health workers during pandemics in earlier drafts before this negotiation stage has been deleted. It is imperative for countries to recognise the crucial work done by frontline workers during the pandemic and integrate this into the international accord (in Article 7), towards safeguarding the lives and health of health workers in the event of future health emergencies.
Further, the current draft lacks substantial provisions that uphold Decent Work for all health and care workers, protect their health and safety, and recognise the essential role of frontline and migrant health and care workers.
including in Article 1 a broad definition of the health and care workforce which incorporates all workers classified as health workers by the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO) used by the WHO.
Decent work should also be incorporated into Article 3 as a guiding principle to be followed when developing, planning, and implementing any measures related to the preparedness, prevention, and response to a future pandemic.
Article 7 must include provisions that will secure and protect the labour rights of the health and care workforce, including with reference to ILO Conventions 87 and 98
Article 7 must guarantee safe staff-to-patient ratios and other minimum work and employment standards as outlined in the ILO Convention 149 on nursing personnel and the 2017 ILO Tripartite Meeting on Improving Employment and Working Conditions in Health Services.
The inclusion of a provision for prioritising of Occupational Safety and Health measures in Article 3 (guiding principles), including a reference to ILO Convention 155 and Resolution 164
The inclusion of the precautionary principle in Article 3 as a guiding principle, and substantive language in Article 7 so that the precautionary principle is applied when the cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically and there may be threats of harm to human health or the environment, particularly in the delivery of health and care services during pandemics.
The inclusion in Article 7 of provisions to address injury, sequelae or death for health and care workers, as well as their families during pandemic response.
The inclusion of clauses (in Article 7) that hold both source and destination countries accountable for protecting both the migrant workers as well as the health systems of sending countries.
ENSURE PUBLIC FINANCING FOR PUBLIC GOODS
In order to truly realise a robust, fair, equitable global innovation system that will generate affordable and timely health technologies, we must understand health technologies (medical countermeasures) as public goods. Article 9.4 should guarantee that all health products, technologies, know-how, etc, that originate from public-funded research programs are kept in the public domain and cannot be patented.
Manufacturers of technologies that were developed with public funding must provide the resulting medical countermeasures on a no profit/no loss basis upon the announcement of a PHEIC.
This should apply regardless of the extent of public funding.
The Covid-19 pandemic showed that we cannot rely on the voluntary agreements the private sector promotes. We need compulsory measures to ensure transparency of costs of R&D and future public contracts signed with private companies. An earlier draft (the pre-zero draft) included compulsory measures for entities that receive public funding for R&D in pandemic countermeasures to disclose prices and contractual terms of public procurement (Article 9.3.b). However, this measure - the only one that created an obligation for private entities - has been removed. This should be included back.
WAIVE PATENT RIGHTS IN ALL CASES OF PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCIES
The COVID-19 pandemic has again shown that maintaining intellectual property privileges during a health crisis, generates artificial scarcity, and high prices, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, especially in the Global South. We cannot live through another health emergency by naturalising monopolies and relying on voluntary solutions. The text must include a binding and automatic mechanism to waive intellectual property rights for technologies related to dealing with such an emergency immediately after a PHEIC is declared (in Article 11.3.(a)). Further, the future instrument should encourage countries to put in place similar mechanisms at the national level.
Further, countries are worried about implementing time-bound waivers unilaterally due to the threats of legal action. This had been addressed in an earlier version of the text that mentioned that parties couldn't challenge these measures. We recommend this text be included back in article 11.3.(a). Similarly, text that creates barriers to governments that are willing to put in place compulsory measures without the consent of patent and/or other intellectual property rights holders (i.e. "on mutually agreed terms") should be removed from the draft text.
Finally, we recommend the inclusion of provisions towards the review of relevant Free Trade Agreements to remove TRIPS-plus measures, such as data protection, linkage, patent term extension, amongst others.
ENSURING EVERYONE SHARES AND EVERYONE BENEFITS
The inclusion of a Pathogen Access and Benefit Sharing system (PABS system, in Article 12) is an important learning from the mistakes of the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, we are concerned that the concrete elements of this system are left unaddressed and are worried that such a gap can render this important effort meaningless. We urge governments to maintain the same timeline for the PABS System as for the rest of the treaty.
We require monetary and non-monetary obligations on the recipient of pathogen data (Recipients), and for governments to bear the responsibility to ensure that commitments are respected. We welcome the requirement for Recipients to provide WHO with real-time access to pandemic-related products, though this should be based on a higher minimum (currently set at a minimum of 20%), as well as an appropriate distribution based on a rolling assessment of evolving public health risks and needs. In addition, the three sub-sections of Article 12.4 (c) should be revised into mandatory benefit-sharing conditions for the Recipients.
STRENGTHEN HEALTH SYSTEMS TO PREVENT HEALTH EMERGENCIES
Pandemic prevention, preparedness and response require a global financial architecture that ensures that all countries have sufficient resources to inject into building strong and universal public health systems. We are concerned that language on finance is weak. The text should include the principle of solidarity and a commitment to an Equitable International Order (in article 3), as well as provisions towards equity in financing of pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
Further, the ILO has underlined the role of social dialogue in strengthening public services, including public health systems. The European Commission document also highlights that "social dialogue is an essential tool for balanced crisis management and for finding effective mitigation and recovery policies," and that "experience shows that social dialogue contributes to effective crisis management." Article 6 should direct relevant actors to engage in social dialogue and governments to ensure active participation of unions and workers both in the planning and response during an emergency and in non-pandemic times.
The negotiations now enter a key moment. We look forward to your support and remain at your disposal for any questions you may have.
José Pérez Debelli, President
Rodrigo Ml. López Garcia, Secretary General
Valdirlei Castagna, President
Maria Júlia Nogueira, President
Jenny Arias la Torre, Executive Secretary
Jucélia Vargas Vieira de Jesus, President
Gabriela Flores, President
Wilfredo Ponce Caldas, President
Vania Machado, President
Gabriela Farias Tamayo, President
María Fernanda Boriotti, President
Solange Caetano, President
Bert Blundon, President
Elaine Aparecida Leoni, President
María del Pilar A. Gerónimo, Secretary General
Janaína Luna, Secretarária Saúde do Trabalhador
Fabio Humberto Melo Quintero, President
João Gabriel Guimarães Buonavita, President
Rogerio Giannini, President
Miguel Angel Mejía, President
Nayeli Fernández Bobadilla, Substantive Equality Secretary
Edwin Ortes, General Secretary
Zenaida Figuera, President
Santiago Picone, Secretary General of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires.
 Including in the "Practical Guide for Strengthening Social Dialogue in Public Service Reform", 2005.
 Proposal for a Council Recommendation on strengthening social dialogue in the European Union