Image courtesy: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
False claims and conspiracy theories about such a treaty emanate from what are called ‘right wing’ or ‘conservative’ media in the US.
The false claims and conspiracy theories have been circulating on social media worldwide through May 2022 and have filtered into Namibian social media spaces.
According to American fact checking service FactCheck.org, the claim was first made by former US congresswoman Michele Bachmann in an interview on 9 May 2022.
Since then it has been repeated by various other US media sources considered ‘right wing’ and been amplified on social media in the run-up to, during and after the 75th World Health Assembly, of the World Health Organization (WHO), which took place from 22-28 May 2022 in Geneva, Switzerland.
The lies and conspiracy theories spread by these US sources relate to the creation of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), co-chaired by South Africa and The Netherlands, to “draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response”.
The so-called ‘right wing’ US sources broadly claim this still to be determined “convention, agreement or other international instrument”, which they’ve labeled a ‘pandemic treaty’, will rob countries, in this case specifically the US, of sovereignty while handing the WHO power over setting countries’ health policies.
There is no ‘pandemic treaty’ that emerged from or was agreed at the 75th World Health Assembly, or any previous World Health Assembly.
The current framework that binds countries to rolling out global responses to major health crises are the International Health Regulations (IHR), the current iteration of which has been in place since 2005.
The IHR have been around since 1969 and “defines countries’ rights and obligations in handling public health events and emergencies that have the potential to cross borders”.
The webpage of the IHR, on the WHO website, states:
“The IHR are an instrument of international law that is legally-binding on 196 countries, including the 194 WHO Member States. The IHR grew out of the response to deadly epidemics that once overran Europe. They create rights and obligations for countries, including the requirement to report public health events. The Regulations also outline the criteria to determine whether or not a particular event constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern”.”
Namibian health authorities have also had to step forward and debunk claims about a ‘pandemic treaty’, issuing a statement on 2 June 2022 and posting the statement on social media for the public to have direct access to it.
The health ministry statement, issued by executive director Ben Nangombe, follows the submission of a petition to the ministry on 1 June 2022 by a group calling itself ‘Concerned Citizens Group of Namibia’ that mentions a ‘pandemic treaty’.
In response, the ministry’s lengthy statement reads that “the Ministry wishes to state categorically that no representative of the Namibian Government has signed or ratified any ‘Pandemic Treaty’. It must be stated that no such instrument exists as yet. (Our emphasis)”
Namibians are cautioned not to spread lies and conspiracy theories from questionable foreign sources, including those from the US from where much of the COVID-19 related disinformation over the last two years has come and continues to come.