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Pandemic Perspectives: Towards a Safer Future with the Pandemic Accord

Updated: Mar 13

The WHO Pandemic Accord proposal is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect future generations from a repeat of the suffering and loss the world suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. To shed light on the experiences of the youth during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Warwick Economics Summit has teamed up with student-led media outlets from across the world to collate a series of articles about the challenges faced by young people in the past 3 years. The articles also feature highlights from to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus' participation at the Warwick Economics Summit 2024 and his call to action for he global youth to support the signing og the Pandemic Accord in May 2024.


Catherine Tait

Writer at the Wessex Scene and student at Southampton University, UK

Pandemic Preparedness, Youth Engagement and Misinformation: A Talk with Dr. Tedros at the Warwick Economics Summit

For many of us, 2020 is a year we would rather forget. Memories of loneliness, fear, bereavement – or simply the desperate longing to be able to go on a walk without feeling like a criminal – are hardly the kind one calls to mind with a smile.

Yet such memories are vital for ensuring it does not happen again. As the World Health Organisation works towards creating a Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response Accord, Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been calling on young people to share their experiences of COVID-19 and perspectives on the agreement.

Participating virtually at the Warwick Economics Summit earlier this month, Dr Tedros explained how the accord, set to be sealed in May, has been designed to make countries more able to combat future pandemics, while also ensuring a more equitable distribution of vaccines. While the decision-making process has involved consulting a variety of different stakeholders, he stressed the importance of youth involvement given that “it’s likely [they] will face another pandemic in [their] lifetime”. The summit, held on the University of Warwick campus, provided the first opportunity for him to speak to young people directly.

As one of the student panellists speaking to Dr. Tedros, I was keen to mention the impact of the pandemic on young people’s education. For the 2020 A-level cohort to which I belonged, grades were based on mock exam results. Aside from the initial stressful uncertainty over how this would work, it meant that for those who had not done as well as they had hoped during these practice exams, there was no chance to improve on those results. Given that the A-level results decided university entry, there were people for whom this change of assessment criteria was life-changing.

Starting university later that year was hardly the Fresher's experience one dreams about. For me, as well as for some of the few people I had the chance to meet, homesickness was exacerbated when visiting home became illegal. Meeting people who could help you settle in and see the brighter side of university life was also hardly an option, leading to a heavy dose of loneliness.

What is more, maintaining motivation once we had been locked down at home with parents proved difficult. There was little contact with other students and hours of online lessons were harder to engage with. And when university did finally return to normal, the experience of sitting exams having not done any official ones since GCSEs was thoroughly daunting.

This concern with the impact on education was equally shared by some of my fellow panellists. Sergei, a student of law at UPF, Barcelona, also talked about the “hard transition to university” and the difficulties of only being able to stay in contact with people online. And for panellist Elisabeth, who was studying in Nigeria when the pandemic hit, lockdown meant she “lost one year of [her] education” as her university was unable to provide online teaching.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education did have some upsides, however. Here at Southampton, for example, it meant that both teachers and students became more flexible. Hard-to-arrange meetings or lectures can now be moved online without much difficulty. This flexibility was paralleled in the summit itself, which has in recent years broadcast to an online audience as well as an in-person one.

Back home, the lockdown in Bath (UK) and the surrounding area also proved to be an inspiring example of people’s willingness to help each other out in times of need. The community shop in my village began volunteer-operated delivery services to the vulnerable, for example. Furthermore, in Bath, the pandemic also led to important efforts to find accommodation for the city’s many homeless. While seemingly short-lived, the ‘Everyone In’ project at least showed that, if prioritised and given sufficient funding, rough sleepers could be helped off the streets on a mass scale.

Of course, these unexpected positives should not detract from the need to plan for a future pandemic. Currently, however, Dr Tedros admits that there have been some bumps in the road to drafting a satisfactory agreement. This is partly due to countries struggling to agree, though he is “confident they can find common ground”, but also due to misinformation. Many critics of the accord contend that it will give the WHO power over signatory countries, but according to Dr. Tedros, such critics are “either uninformed or lying”. The accord does not state at any point that the WHO will be able to impose lockdowns, he assures, since “it’s sovereign states themselves who are writing the agreement”. To the director-general, “the agreement is itself an exercise of sovereignty”.

The role of young people in contributing to the agreement is therefore not just sharing their stories, but also combating such misinformation. In Dr Tedros’ words, “we need you to raise your voices, to tell your leaders that you want this agreement, you want this accord, […] to counter the lies”, starting by making sure that they themselves are well-informed.

Discussing how best to spread the message, panellists were quick to point out young people’s affinity with social media. Such platforms can help messages countering misconceptions surrounding the accord to reach a wider audience.


Aisling Redden

Writer for Orange Magazine and student at the Centre de Formation des Journalistes, Lyon, France.

Fighting future pandemics: the World Health Organization partners with students at the Warwick Economics Summit

With the emblematic blue of the United Nations and the logo of the World Health Organization behind him, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus looks down on us from a screen. His virtual presence via Zoom at the Warwick Economics Summit (WES) is a reminder of the pandemic which began nearly four years ago. 

The WHO chief spoke to students in early February at this year’s WES in Warwick University, the United Kingdom, to launch a new global campaign as part of its aim to get youth involved in boosting support for the Pandemic Accord, its pact to prepare for future pandemics. 

The accord will focus on “pandemic prevention, preparedness and response” and is a priority for Dr. Tedros who has called it a "generational commitment that we will not go back to the old cycle of panic and neglect" following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The launch event at WES was organised as a conversation between students and Dr. Tedros about their experiences of the pandemic. Seated below the giant screen are four students and the panel moderator, Iman El Kohen, who open up about how their lives were impacted as the world shut down in 2020. 

Stalled education

“I lost one year of education during the pandemic,” says Elizabeth Saint-Wonder, a Nigerian delegate studying in the UK. She tells Dr Tedros, and the audience, that Nigeria was unprepared to face the healthcare crisis, impacting not only her but those around her. 

The other students on stage, Catherine, from the UK, and Sergi and Sofia, from Spain, echo Elizabeth’s words, as they describe the difficulties of completing their school years during successive lockdowns, impacting both their academic and social lives.

The students voice their support for an accord, saying that work needs to be done to ensure the world is better prepared for the next pandemic. 

“The decisions of the government will shape our future and we should ensure that the government is listening to young voices,” says Sofia. 

In response, Dr. Tedros, looming large from the screen above, thanks the delegates, saying, “The energy and passion from young people will drive change and the accord.”

The Pandemic Accord

As the May deadline for countries to agree on the treaty approaches, the WHO is ramping up its efforts to get leaders around the world to resolve their disagreements and deliver the accord. The agency is also trying to mobilise youth to put pressure on their governments. 

“Pathogens have no regard for the lines humans draw on maps. Nor for the colour of our [skin] or the size of our economies,” Dr. Tedros tells students at the summit.

If it goes through in May, the pandemic accord will make history as only the second legally-binding health accord agreed between UN member states. 

The proposed treaty seeks to expand on its International Health Regulations (IHR), agreed in 2005, which obliges countries to advise the WHO of any health emergencies within their countries. 

The new accord would be legally binding for those who sign it, which has prompted criticism from many on the right of the political spectrum, especially in the United States, who warn that the WHO would then be able to “dictate” a country’s policies during a pandemic. 

Such claims have been debunked, with the accord including specific reference to the sovereign right of states “to determine and manage their approach to public health, notably pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery of health systems, pursuant to their own policies and legislation.”

Speaking at WES, Dr Tedros says, “WHO will not even be a party to the agreement. [...] The agreement in itself is an exercise of sovereignty.”

Misinformation, however, continues to jeopardise the treaty, something that Dr. Tedros seeks to address at WES. 

“You, your world, and your future”

“It is likely you’ll face another pandemic in your lifetime,” Dr Tedros tells students. “We need you to raise your voices, to tell your leaders that you want this agreement, you want this accord, to counter the lies that there are underlying incentives.” 

He encourages students to make their voices heard via social media, combating content that spreads misinformation by using their abilities as “digital natives” to mobilise those around them. 

“Ultimately, the pandemic agreement is about you, your world, and your future,” Dr Tedros says. “We have a collective responsibility to protect future generations from the suffering we endured. As young people, you have the most to gain from a strong agreement.”

A youth-led approach?

“Everyone knows about climate change, it’s the first issue that pops into the minds of young people,” says Lancelot Wilson, one of the three chief organisers at WES. “It’s easier to empathise with polar bears than with the idea of some invisible virus and an unknown future.”

The partnership between the summit and the WHO is a chance for youth to learn more about the pandemic accord and get involved, Wilson explains.

Students seem to be in agreement, telling Orange Magazine that they support the proposed treaty.

Chukwudumebi Okeke, a Nigerian student from University of Essex, is enthusiastic in her response to Dr Tedros’ talk. “One thing he said was to use our voice, and those of us who aren’t able to to help professionally can help by creating awareness,” she says. 

A Leeds University student from Tanzania agrees: “We live in a digital world, and there are so many people around the world who have access to social media,” says Machariah Mumba. “So I think using those platforms is really important [to communicate about the accord].”

Mumba also says that good leadership is key, saying that “institutions have to show a way for our leaders and then we’ll follow.”

For now, world leaders will continue to debate on the wording of the accord, and Dr. Tedros has urged them to redouble their efforts to establish the accord. 

“There are still areas of difference that need further negotiation between countries. None of them are insurmountable,” he said in February at the World Governments Summit in Dubai. “If countries listen to each other’s concerns, I am confident they can find common ground and a common approach.


About the Pandemic Accord:

The Pandemic accord is designed to strengthen collaboration and coordination across sectors and ensure all people, including youth, healthcare professionals, community members, patients, and all other members of society are protected, and prepared for the future pandemics. It is being negotiated by Member States based on principles of solidarity, equity, science and evidence, respect for human rights, and protection of national sovereignty over all health decision-making. The accord is an initiative started, led and decided by governments of the world, ensuring solidarity and sovereignty. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) will submit its outcome for consideration of the accord by the 77th World Health Assembly in May 2024.

During WES2024, a global campaign was kickstarted to engage the youth in sharing their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to promote discussions about the proposed Pandemic Accord. Anyone interested in sharing their experiences can participate by using the hashtags #AreWeReady and #PandemicAccord when posting on social media. 


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