The Pandemic Treaty, misinformation, rebuilding trust, and universal access to reliable healthcare information

28 May, 2024

Dear HIFA colleagues,

In 2020 Dr Tedros, DG Of WHO, noted that misinformation associated with COVID-19 was as dangerous as the virus itself.

It is therefore ironic that the Pandemic Treaty, which was due to be approved this week at the World Health Assembly, and which would have prepared the world against future pandemics, has itself been threatened by misinformation.

Safeguarding the Pandemic Agreement from Disinformation

A sustained disinformation campaign worldwide is undermining the highly anticipated pandemic agreement

'The world's governments set the 2024 World Health Assembly, convening May 27 to June 1, as the deadline to approve a treaty, often referred to as the Pandemic Agreement, to bolster humanity's preparedness and response to future infectious disease threats...

'Complicating matters has been a sustained disinformation campaign worldwide to undermine the agreement by making and amplifying spurious assertions about what it intends to accomplish and how it will do so. Central to the disinformation campaign are erroneous claims about national sovereignty and forcible takings of pandemic countermeasures. Further, legitimate and unfounded unease concern weakened intellectual property (IP) and speech rights...'

Meanwhile, to my knowledge, not a single government has explicitly committed to the goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. Neither has WHO itself, although it is implicit in its Constitution. Such commitments, together with a transparent global strategy agreed by stakeheholders, would significantly increase trust in governments and in UN agencies (as well as taking a whole-systems approach to improve availability and use). Neither has any funding agency, despite (for example) calls by us and by global health leaders for them to do so.

If governments, WHO and funders were to explicitly champion the goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information, and convene stakeholders to develop a transparent global strategy, this would increase popular trust in these bodies. Universal access to reliable healthcare information should be the cornerstone for building trust and undermining those who nefariously peddle misinformation. And of course, even more important, it would dramatically improve quality of health care and reduce the appalling numbers (more than 20,000 people a day) who die due to poor quality care.

Best wishes, Neil

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: