World Health Organization member states agreed Wednesday to start building a new international accord on how to handle future pandemics and ensure there can be no repeat of Covid-19.
The economic turmoil and millions of lives lost during the coronavirus crisis triggered calls for new international defences strong enough to prevent a future such disaster.
The process will present its final outcome to WHO member states in 2024.
"The adoption of this decision is cause for celebration and cause for hope that we all need," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in closing the three-day gathering.
"Of course, there is still a long road ahead. There are still differences of opinion about what a new accord could or should contain. But you have proven to each other and the world that differences can be overcome and common ground can be found."
- 'End this pandemic' -
The three-day meeting of the World Health Assembly -- the WHO's decision-making body comprising all 194 member states -- was an unprecedented special session on considering a new accord on pandemics.
"I have one simple request for all member states, and that is: end this pandemic," Tedros said in his closing speech.
"Just in the past week, this virus has demonstrated that it will not simply disappear. How many more lives and livelihoods it takes is up to us.
"Ending the pandemic is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice."
Countries agreed to establish an intergovernmental negotiating body "to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response".
The body'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.