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Africa Pushes Back Against U.S. WHO Reforms

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus delivers a speech on the opening day of 75th World Health Assembly of the WHO, in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2022.

African countries raised an objection on Tuesday to a U.S.-led proposal to reform the International Health Regulations (IHR), a move delegates say might prevent passage at the World Health Organization's annual assembly.

The International Health Regulations (IHR) set forth WHO members' legally binding obligations around outbreaks.

The United States has proposed 13 IHR reforms which seek to authorize the deployment of expert teams to contamination sites and the creation of a new compliance committee to monitor implementation of the rules.

The draft proposal, still to be voted on, is seen as the first step in a broader IHR reform process and would aim to change article 59 that would speed up the implementation for future reforms from 24 to 12 months.

But the African group expressed reservations about even this narrow change, saying all reforms should be tackled together as part of a "holistic package" at a later stage.

"We find that they are going too quickly and these sorts of reforms can't be rushed through," said an African delegate in Geneva who was not authorized to speak to the media.

Moses Keetile, deputy permanent secretary in Botswana's health ministry, told the assembly on Tuesday "The African region shares the view that the process should not be fast tracked.."

One diplomat following the discussions remarked "They don't agree, but it's not a disaster. It's a multilateral process so you can't force things through."

African objections may be a strategy, according to observers, to seek concessions on vaccine and drug-sharing from wealthier countries who were seen to be hoarding supplies during COVID-19.

This assembly is expected to officially launch IHR reform discussions, which may last up to two years.

The negotiations will run alongside talks on a potential pandemic treaty, raising concerns over duplication. "Nithin Ramakrishnan, consultant for The Third World Network obverved "Several developing countries have said that the WHO has too many platforms for negotiation, and it is simply not manageable."