WHO agrees to initial U.S.-led push to reform virus rules

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WHO agrees to initial U.S.-led push to reform virus rules

The countries agreed to an initial U.S.-led push to reform of the rules around disease outbreaks, known as the International Health Regulations, after early opposition from Africa and others was overcome this week, sources told Reuters on Friday.

The amendments, once confirmed by the World Health Organization WHO assembly, are one of a handful of concrete outcomes from a meeting that was seen as a once-in-a-generation chance for the U.N. health agency to strengthen its role after 15 million deaths during the COVID-19 epidemic.

The reform sought by Washington and backed by other countries like Japan and the European Union is a first step in a broader reform of the IHR, which set out countries' legal obligations around disease outbreaks, and is expected to take up to two years.

Three diplomatic sources said this was overcome by changes to the proposal's wording, but African countries and others voiced opposition to the approach earlier this week.

One of the sources who were not allowed to speak about the negotiations said a compromise was reached in the corridors last night.

The new proposal, which was not approved by the assembly, now refers to steps to address equity issues - a key issue for developing countries like many in Africa, which are seeking guarantees about the sharing of vaccines and treatments for future health emergencies.

The change to Article 59 is anticipated to speed up the implementation of reforms from 24 to 12 months.

The WHO's 194 members have proposed a new compliance committee to monitor the rules' future implementation, as well as other U.S. proposals that are yet to be negotiated by the WHO's 194 members.

Russia has also submitted IHR reform proposals that have not yet been made public.