The world must study the wreckage of Covid-19 and say "never again" by striking a pandemic preparedness treaty, the WHO said Monday as countries gathered to build a new accord.
World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said another disastrous pandemic is bound to happen again unless countries show the resolve to strengthen global defences.
Nations are meeting in Geneva from Monday to Wednesday to discuss an international agreement setting out how to handle the next pandemic — which experts fear is only a matter of time.
The gathering comes with the planet still besieged by Covid-19, nearly two years on from the first recorded cases, and now shaken by Omicron, the new Covid-19 variant of concern.
WHO member states reached a consensus Sunday on kick-starting the process towards a pandemic treaty.
Countries agreed to set up an intergovernmental body charged with drafting and negotiating a WHO accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
Sunday's draft decision, secured after countries agreed to compromise, should be formalised during the meeting.
"The emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is," Tedros told world leaders at the start of the three-day gathering.
"Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics.
"We shouldn't need another wake-up call. We should all be wide awake to the threat of this virus. But Omicron's very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we're done with Covid-19, it's not done with us.
"It will all happen again unless you, the nations of the world, can come together to say with one voice: never again."
This meeting of the World Health Assembly — the WHO's decision-making body comprising all 194 member states — is an unprecedented special session on how to handle the next pandemic.
The final outcome of the process should come into force in 2024.
The draft decision says WHO member states agree to establish "an intergovernmental negotiating body (INB)... to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response".
The INB's first meeting must be no later than March 1 next year to elect two co-chairs and four vice-chairs.
A progress report will be presented at the regular World Health Assembly annual gathering in 2023, with the final outcome presented for consideration at the 2024 WHA.