Leaders of 23 countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) have backed an idea to create an international treaty to help the world deal with future health emergencies.
The idea of such a treaty, which would tighten rules on sharing information as well as ensure universal and equitable access to vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for pandemics, was floated by the chairman of European Union leaders Charles Michel at a summit of the Group of 20 major economic powers last November.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus endorsed the idea in January but formal negotiations have yet to begin, diplomats say.
Tedros told a news conference on Tuesday that a treaty would tackle gaps exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A draft resolution on negotiations could be presented to the WHO's 194 member states at their annual ministerial meeting in May, he said.
The WHO has faced criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and was accused by the administration of former US President Donald Trump of helping China shield the extent of its outbreak, which the agency denies.
On Tuesday the treaty proposal got the formal backing of the leaders of Fiji, Portugal, Romania, Britain, Rwanda, Kenya, France, Germany, Greece, South Korea, Chile, Costa Rica, Albania, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Senegal, Spain, Norway, Serbia, Indonesia, Ukraine and the WHO.
"There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone," the leaders wrote in a joint opinion article in major newspapers.
"We believe that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response," they said.
The leaders of China and the United States did not sign the letter, but Tedros said both powers had reacted positively to the proposal, and all states would be represented in talks.
The main goal of such a treaty would be to strengthen the world's resilience to future pandemics through better alert systems, data sharing, research and the production and distribution of vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment, they said.
"We are convinced that it is our responsibility, as leaders of nations and international institutions, to ensure that the world learns the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic," the leaders wrote.