The outline of an essential global pandemic treaty


COVID-19 would count as being among some of the most severe pandemics the world has seen in the last 100 years. An estimated 18 million people may have died from COVID-19, according various credible estimates, a scale of loss not seen since the Second World War. 

Further, with over 120 million people pushed into extreme poverty, and a massive global recession, no single government or institution has been able to address this emergency single-handedly. This has given us a larger perspective of how nobody is safe until everybody is safe.

Socio-economic impacts:

  • While high-income economies are still recovering from the after-effects, the socio- economic consequences of the novel coronavirus pandemic are irreversible in low and low middle-income countries. 
  • The monopolies held by pharma majors such as Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna created at least nine new billionaires since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and made over $1,000 a second in profits, even as fewer of their vaccines reached people in low-income countries. 
  • As of March 2022, only 3% of people in low-income countries had been vaccinated with at least one dose, compared to 60.18% in high-income countries. The international target to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population against COVID-19 by mid-2022 was missed because poorer countries were at the “back of the queue” when vaccines were rolled out.

Widespread health inequity

  • Health-care systems have been stretched beyond their capacity and gross health inequity has been observed in the distribution of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics across the world. 
  • Now, with the World Health Organization (WHO) having declared the monkeypox outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) with over 32,000 cases from over 80 countries (August 2022), the world faces the risk of another health crisis.


  • Monkeypox is caused by monkeypox virus, a member of the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae.Monkeypox is a viral zoonotic disease that occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of central and west Africa and is occasionally exported to other regions.
  • Monkeypox is usually a self-limited disease with the symptoms lasting from 2 to 4 weeks. Severe cases can occur. In recent times, the case fatality ratio has been around 3–6%.
  • Monkeypox is transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected person or animal, or with material contaminated with the virus.
  • Monkeypox virus is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.
  • An antiviral agent developed for the treatment of smallpox has also been licensed for the treatment of monkeypox.
  • The clinical presentation of monkeypox resembles that of smallpox, a related orthopoxvirus infection which was declared eradicated worldwide in 1980. Monkeypox is less contagious than smallpox and causes less severe illness.
  • Monkeypox typically presents clinically with fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes and may lead to a range of medical complications.
  • Vaccines used during the smallpox eradication programme also provided protection against monkeypox. Newer vaccines have been developed of which one has been approved for prevention of monkeypox.Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is a formal declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) of “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”, formulated when a situation arises that is “serious, sudden, unusual, or unexpected”, which “carries implications for public health beyond the affected state’s national border” and “may require immediate international action” 
  • Even six to eight weeks after the PHEIC declaration, countries, except for Asia, did not take the requisite precautions. Similarly, when world leaders pledged €7.4 billion ($8.07 billion) in a digital fundraiser for developing a coronavirus vaccine and treatments, the United States did not send any representative Thus, inequality has also been prolonging the course of the pandemic. 
  • And, it is in this backdrop that the creation of a Global Pandemic Treaty was proposed at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly (WHASS). The underlying logic was that as global governance had failed during the pandemic, we needed political commitment to mitigate future challenges.

Other impacts of COVID-19:            


  • A study from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had found that an additional 207 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 due to the severe long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Also a new research conducted by Pew Research Center has found that the Covid-19 has pushed about 32 million Indians out of the middle class and increased poverty in the country.

Economic Effect:

  • The food insecurity has prompted more people to enter the labour force (55% increase in the labour force among the respondents).
  • There is a silent rise in child labour as well.
  • The economic crisis was deepening as people who lost their jobs were yet to find replacements and little had been accomplished after the lockdown for the revival of livelihoods in the informal sector.
  • Incomes reduced by half or a quarter for more than half the urban respondents while it was a little over one-third for rural respondents.

Public Distribution System & Social Sector Scheme Coverage:

  • A large section of rural residents could cushion the blow of pandemic-driven economic disruption due to foodgrain via the Public Distribution System (PDS). The urban poor’s access to such ration, however, was minimal.
  • The social security schemes also had relatively better coverage among the rural poor as rural areas had better access to PDS rations.
  • A larger proportion of households in urban areas did not have access to ration cards.

Nutrition and Hunger:

  • A decline in nutritional quality and quantity was more among the urban respondents as was the need to borrow money for buying food.
  • The NFHS data has shown either a worsening or stagnation in malnutrition outcomes such as prevalence of stunting and wasting among children and high levels of anaemia among women (57 %) and children.

India’s lead role

  • India’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and reinstating global equity by leveraging its own potential has set an example to legislators worldwide. 
  • India produces nearly 60% of the world’s vaccines and is said to account for 60%-80% of the United Nations’ annual vaccine procurement — “vaccine diplomacy” or “vaccine maitri” with a commitment against health inequity.Vaccine Maitri is a humanitarian initiative undertaken by the Indian government to provide COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world. The government started providing vaccines from 20 January 2021. As of 21 February 2022, India had delivered around 16.29 cror doses of vaccines to 96 countries. 
  • India was unfettered in its resolve to continue the shipment of vaccines and other diagnostics even when it was experiencing a vaccine shortage for domestic use. There was only a brief period of weeks during the peak of the second wave in India when the vaccine mission was halted. 

As of 2021, India shipped 594.35 lakh doses of ‘Made-in-India’ COVID-19 vaccines to 72 countries — a classic example of global cooperation. Among these, 81.25 lakh doses were gifts, 339.67 lakh doses were commercially distributed and 173.43 lakh doses were delivered via the Covax programme under the aegis of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. 

COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, is a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by the GAVI vaccine alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organization, alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.

Global Vaccine Alliance or gavi is a public–private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunization in poor countries. In 2016, Gavi channeled more than half of total donor assistance for health, and most donor assistance for immunization, by monetary measure.

  • Further, the long tussle with the pharma majors over vaccine patents, especially in the African countries, held back the global vaccination drive. But India stood as a global leader, moving a proposal with South Africa in October 2020 to ask the World Trade Organization (WTO) ‘to allow all countries to choose to neither grant nor enforce patents and other intellectual property related to COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other technologies for the duration of the pandemic, until global herd immunity is achieved’. 
  • Even though this proposal was stonewalled by some of the leading countries, it was only in June 2022, that the WTO finally decided to water down intellectual property restrictions in manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines after rigorous efforts.

Lessons learnt, path ahead

  • In the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a multitude of initiatives to address the pandemic and to do better in the future such as the Vaccine Alliance. These are all valuable, but a treaty under the umbrella of WHO would, as highlighted by the journal BMJ, build coherence and avoid fragmentation. 
  • For example, as a document by the University of Groningen shows, among high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries, while the difference between the number of reported cases was relatively similar until late March 2021 (65.3 and 61.2 million, respectively), high-income countries shared on average 16.5–fold more sequences per reported case (1.81% and 0.11%, respectively).
  • Thus, as mentioned in the BMJ, such a treaty should cover crucial aspects such as data sharing and genome sequencing of emerging viruses. It should formally commit governments and parliaments to implement an early warning system and a properly funded rapid response mechanism.
  • Further, it should mobilise nation states to agree on a set of common metrics that are related to health investments and a return on those investments. These investments should aim to reduce the public-private sector gap.


  • A global pandemic treaty will not only reduce socioeconomic inequalities across nation states but also enhance a global pandemic preparedness for future health emergencies. India must take the lead in this. 

NASA’s sonification project- 

Translating James Webb telescope images into sound


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on December 25, 2021, and the first set of images taken by the powerful telescope was released in July 2022.

Now, NASA is adding another layer to the experience through the sonification of the images and data gathered by JWST. “Music taps into our emotional centres. Our goal is to make Webb’s images and data understandable through sound – helping listeners create their own mental images,” says a researcher.

About James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):

This telescope is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). 

The Hubble Space Telescope is a space telescope that was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation. It was not the first space telescope, but it is one of the largest and most versatile. 

It is renowned as a vital research tool for astronomy: one of NASA’s Great Observatories.

Hubble features a 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in) mirror, and its five main instruments observe in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Hubble’s orbit outside the distortion of Earth’s atmosphere allows it to capture extremely high-resolution images with substantially lower background light than ground-based telescopes. 

It has recorded some of the most detailed visible light images, allowing a deep view into space. Many Hubble observations have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as determining the rate of expansion of the universe.

JWST is the result of an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency which was launched in December 2021.

It is currently at a point in space known as the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point, approximately 1.5 million km beyond Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

Lagrange Point 2 is one of the five points in the orbital plane of the Earth-Sun system.

The points are in any revolving two-body system like Earth and Sun, marking where the gravitational forces of the two large bodies cancel each other out.

Objects placed at these positions are relatively stable and require minimal external energy or fuel to keep themselves there, and so many instruments are positioned here.

Features of JWST:

  1. It’s the largest, most powerful infrared space telescope ever built.
  2. It can see backwards in time to just after the Big Bang by looking for galaxies that are so far away that the light has taken many billions of years to get from those galaxies to our telescopes


  1. The first is to look back around 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe. (Origins of the universe)
  2. To compare the faintest, earliest galaxies to today’s grand spirals and understand how galaxies assemble over billions of years.
  3. To see where stars and planetary systems are being born.
  4. To observe the atmospheres of extrasolar planets (beyond our solar system), and perhaps find the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe.
  5. To study the atmospheres of a wide diversity of exoplanets.
  6. Search for atmospheres similar to Earth’s, and for the signatures of key substances such as methane, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and complex organic molecules, in hopes of finding the building blocks of life.An exoplanet or extrasolar planet is a planet outside the Solar System. As of 1 September 2022, there are 5,157 confirmed exoplanets in 3,804 planetary systems, with 833 systems having more than one planet. 

Mechanism of sonification of images and data:

  • Take for example the Cosmic Cliffs in the Carina Nebula.
  • JWST captured a stunning image of the Carina Nebula, which is 7,600 light years away. The JWST image is far clearer than any image captured previously.
  • According to NASA, the images are scanned from left to right. The image itself gives the appearance of a mountain range, complete with cliffs and valleys against a bright, moonlit sky. In reality, though, the image shows the edge of a huge, gaseous cavity within a star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula.
  • The soundtrack representing the Cosmic Cliffs is vibrant, in sync with the image itself which depicts a bright landscape, the project description says. 
  • The top half of the image – mostly comprised of gas and dust – is represented through blue hues and more drone-like sounds. The bottom half – in shades of red and orange – is represented through comparatively clearer and melodic sounds. 
  • The sound becomes louder for brighter parts of the image, but that can change if a light is positioned differently in the image. If a bright spot is placed vertically higher in the image, it will be represented by a sound higher in frequency in comparison to a 
  • spot of similar brightness placed vertically lower.
  • NASA believes that visually-impaired people will benefit the most from this sonification project.
  • A second example of sonification is that of exoplanet WASP-96 b.
  • JWST observed the atmospheric characteristics of the gaseous exoplanet, which shows clear signatures of water. 
  • Longer wavelengths of light are heard as lower pitches because they have lower frequencies. The volume of the sound represents the amount of light detected in each data point, as observed in the video above. The water sounds have been represented by the sound of falling droplets.
  • “These compositions provide a different way to experience the detailed information in Webb’s first data. Similar to how written descriptions are unique translations of visual images, sonification also translates the visual images by encoding information, like colour, brightness, star locations, or water absorption signatures, as sounds. Our teams are committed to ensuring astronomy is accessible to all,” 
  • NASA is adding another layer of experience to the images gathered by the James Webb Space Telescope through the sonification of the images and data captured.
  • How were the sounds captured? These sounds are not recorded in space. 
  • These are captured similar to how written descriptions are unique translations of visual images, sonification also translates the visual images by encoding information, like colour, brightness, star locations, or water absorption signatures, as sounds.
  • For example, the soundtrack representing the Cosmic Cliffs is vibrant, in sync with the image itself which depicts a bright landscape. The top half of the image – mostly comprised of gas and dust – is represented through blue hues and more drone-like sounds. The bottom half – in shades of red and orange – is represented through comparatively clearer and melodic sounds.


JWST marks a leap in technology in astronomy and will open many secrets of our universe, from its origin to the discovery of Earth-like planets. Meanwhile, it is also contributing to the understanding of other heavenly bodies like Black Holes.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *