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Pandemic treaty to hit democracy, human rights, dissent; Parliament 'evades' debate

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* 

In the blockbuster Hindi movie, “Sholay” of yesteryears, the dacoit leader Gabbar Singh, while admonishing his three sidekicks who got roundly thrashed by two former prisoners turned Good Samaritans, utters the iconic dialogue, “Yahan se pachas pachas kos door gaon mein ... jab bachcha raat ko rota hai, toh maa kehti hai bete soo ja ... soo ja nahi toh Gabbar Singh aa jayega,” which translates to, “In villages within a radius of hundreds of miles from here, when a child cries at night, mothers coax them to sleep by saying, baby go to sleep otherwise Gabbar Singh will come.”
Gabbar Singh, the gangster, led by fear – and he who only rules by terror doeth grievous wrong according to the famous poem by Tennyson. In the movie, Gabbar Singh meets his nemesis in the end.
Somewhat in the same vein, after having lost credibility due to gross mismanagements during the recent Covid-19 pandemic and raising the false alarm of monkeypox, the WHO chief Dr Tedros wants to rule by fear. This is indicated by his dire warning to the world to be prepared for the next pandemic which would be "even deadlier" than the Covid-19 pandemic. Sounds like mothers coaxing children to behave or else Gabbar will come!
The WHO continues to be as vague as ever in its statements about the “even deadlier” pandemic. This never was the classical approach to deal with pandemics prior to Covid-19. In fact, the correct way to deal with pandemics is to mitigate public panic not to stoke it. Public panic could lead to hoarding of medical resources and desperate rush to occupy hospital beds at the slightest sign of an illness real or imagined.
This in turn can precipitate a sort of medical stampede which happened during the second wave of Covid-19 in India. Opportunistic politicians, bureaucrats, career scientists, corporate health care chains, pharmaceutical industry and others jump in the fray to exploit the common citizen in the environment of fear.
The WHO it seems wants to revive the residual panic left in the wake of the pandemic. This ambiguous “risk communication” can lead to a perpetual state of panic among the people leading to exhaustion of their critical thinking abilities. As a result they will blindly trust the WHO and similar haloed institutions which fell from grace during the pandemic.
The pitch is being prepared for launching the proposed Pandemic Treaty by the WHO. By a series of amendments, over 300, in the 66 articles of the International Health Regulations (IHR) of 2005, the WHO aspires to transform itself from an advisory body to a regulatory authority.
Like most WHO documents, the IHR is unwieldy. One must therefore carefully study the subtle deletions and additions transforming it into an instrument of authoritarianism to be wielded on the whims and fancies of the WHO; not only on occurrence of a pandemic, but even on the threat of an impending pandemic as perceived by the WHO.
The pandemic treaty would give unlimited powers to impose lockdowns, implement border closures, demand vaccine passports, force quarantine of healthy people and other draconian measures as witnessed in the recent pandemic. WHO will also decide what constitutes misinformation and as a final arbiter of truth will have powers of censorship, not a very scientific approach. Science progresses by disagreements and debates, not by muffling dissenting views.
The politicization, suppression and corruption of science observed in the present pandemic will become a regular feature. When good science is suppressed by the medical-political nexus, people die.
A former WHO scientist, Dr David Bell, has expressed concerns about the proposed amendments to the IHR 2005, also called the pandemic accord or pandemic treaty. Dr Bell is afraid that if the treaty comes into force it would confer extraordinary powers to a coterie of WHO officials threatening the sovereignty of democracies across the globe. It will take away the ability of citizens of countries to make their own decisions.
The influence of pharmaceutical industry also influences decisions taken by the WHO, “If you are trying to maximize returns to your shareholders, and you are running a pharmaceutical company, then do not concentrate on getting people physically well so that they develop natural resistance to disease, you better concentrate to sell the product for the disease that they have,” Dr Bell cynically observes.
Politicization, suppression and corruption of science observed in the present pandemic will become a regular feature
Last May, the amendments to the IHR were considered by World Health Assembly. The final draft will need to be passed by 50% of member countries this year; then the treaty will need to be ratified by individual governments of 2/3rds of the WHO member countries.
US Congressman Chris Smith did not mince words in a press statement on what he thinks of the proposed pandemic treaty, “The Biden Administration’s absurd proposal to surrender U.S. sovereignty to the corrupt World Health Organization (WHO) is an egregious breach of constitutional principle that will lead to less accountability and more misconduct by this problematic UN agency.”
Concerns have also been raised by MPs in the British and European parliaments. These are the evident ambition of the WHO to transform itself from an advisory body to a controlling international authority; intrude into a country’s ability to make its own rules and control its own budgets; and the WHO’s diktats becoming “binding.”
The MPs also expressed the view that WHO is influenced by China, the pharmaceutical industry, and that its office bearers are not democratically elected and cannot be held accountable for acts of omissions or commissions. They expressed doubts about their competency to handle global pandemics given the poor record during the Covid-19 crisis, such as definitely claiming that the virus was from animal origin and the denial of natural infection in protecting against infection.
Surprisingly, there are no debate and discussion in the parliament of the biggest democracy in the world on a proposed treaty which will hit at the very foundation of democracy and suppress human rights, autonomy and right to free speech and dissent. We can only hope our parliamentarians wake up and the pandemic treaty is debated at length in parliament and civil society. Opinion of legal experts and ethicists should also be invited.
We can take hope from the statement of the present Chief Justice of India, Justice D Y Chandrachud who said, “States can spread lies, but the citizens must remain vigilant and they have a duty to expose the lies.”
Perhaps, the Chief Justice of India can contemplate a suo moto cognizance on the proposed pandemic treaty. Else the citizens of this vibrant democracy must remain vigilant and wake up the parliamentarians to save our democracy. Given our heavy burden of public health challenges we are in perpetual pandemics which we are coping with on a daily basis.
The WHO does not have to warn us of any impending pandemics and take away our democratic rights. Gabbar Go, Gabbar Go should be our chant accompanied by banging of thalis and lighting of diyas when WHO declares the next pandemic!
---
*Post doctoral in epidemiology, who was a field epidemiologist for over two decades in the Indian Armed Forces. He also led the mobile epidemic investigation team at the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune, India from 2000 to 2004. During this period he investigated a number of outbreaks in different parts of the country. He was awarded for his work on Tribal Malaria and Viral Hepatitis E. He presently is a Professor in a Medical College in Pune

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