Why Kenya supports changes to global health rules

Covid-19 made the world aware that less-developed nations did not have enough vaccines, while some rich nations hoarded them.

In Summary

• Many nations want fairer vaccine distribution and the ability to manufacture WHO-approved jabs on their own.

• All agree on fairness but complex issues involve IP, business interests and richer nations don’t want to be deprived. 

Health CS Susan Nakhumicha presents Kenya national statement at the World Health Assembly in Geneva on May 29, 2024.
Health CS Susan Nakhumicha presents Kenya national statement at the World Health Assembly in Geneva on May 29, 2024.

Kenya supports changes to strengthen the global response to future pandemics and disease outbreaks and it wants fair distribution of vaccines.

Health CS Susan Nakhumicha represented Kenya in Geneva in the just-ended gathering of ministers of health, known as the World Health Assembly.

This is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization.

The meeting discussed changes to the International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR), the legally binding rules that help prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease.

IHR are the only global rules guiding countries conduct in international public health emergencies.

They are important to avoid discriminatory travel bans and unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.

“I wish to reiterate Kenya's support for the conclusion of negotiations on the Pandemic Agreement and International Health Regulations," Nakhumicha said in the national statement. 

"Covid-19 reminded us, infectious diseases do not respect borders, and thus, we must work together as a global community to address these challenges effectively.”

The meeting, which ended on Saturday, also discussed a new pandemic treaty, but parties are far from agreement and did not finalise the text.

“Apart from our valuable contribution to the global health landscape, Kenya also looks at the WHA as an opportunity to make our case for greater support for critical health programmes that are critical to our realisation of UHC,” Nakhumicha said.

She briefed the meeting on Kenya's Primary Health Care Fund, Social Health Insurance Fund and Emergency, Chronic and Critical Illness Fund to ensure financial risk protection for all Kenyans.

"We have embarked on an ambitious primary healthcare initiative in which we have trained, equipped and deployed more than 100,000 community health promoters to provide level 1 services in the community," the CS said.

"This model creates approximately 10,000 community health units, forming part of a broader primary care network."

The IHR, which were first adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1969 and last revised in 2005, were conceived to maximise collective efforts to manage public health events while minimising their disruption to travel and trade.

They have 196 state parties, comprising all 194 WHO member states plus Liechtenstein and the Holy See.

These parties have led the process to amend the IHR through the Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) (WGIHR).

“Over the past two years, WHO member states have dedicated enormous effort to rise to this challenge posed by Covid-19 and respond to the losses it caused, including at least seven million lives lost,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general.

“Covid-19 affected everybody, in many ways, and that is why member states started a process to develop a pandemic agreement to make the world better prepared for the next pandemic."

"While great progress was made during these negotiations, there are challenges still to overcome. We need to use the World Health Assembly to re-energise us and finish the job at hand, which is to present the world with a generational pandemic agreement.”

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