Geneva, Switzerland: Members of the World Health Organization agreed on Monday to strengthen the global organization at the center of the pandemic response and provide it with a more stable financial foundation from which to address future health emergencies.
Many of the specifics of the tangible actions had to be postponed until later since members are still debating how much power to give the UN organization.
The resolution voted on the last day of the UN health agency’s annual gathering of its 194 member states, however, was hailed as “historic” by WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“The world needs a stronger WHO at the center of the global health architecture,” he said.
Member states decided to strengthen the organization at the center of the worldwide response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 3.5 million people, a year and a half after it began.
The 14-page resolution passed on Monday promised, among other things, to end the organization’s funding uncertainties.
“Ensure adequate, flexible, sustainable, and predictable financing of WHO’s program budget,” member states pledged.
Regular membership payments currently account for only around 16% of the agency’s expenditures. The rest comes from voluntary contributions that countries have extensively targeted for certain initiatives.
Even in the midst of the crisis, Tedros pointed out, low and unclear funding levels meant that initiatives were planned in a crippling cycle of financial ebb and flow.
“WHO cannot grow stronger without sustainable financing,” he said in closing remarks to the 74th World Health Assembly, which has been held virtually over the past week.
“We cannot pay people with praise.”
Countries also agreed to “strengthen WHO’s capability to swiftly and adequately analyze disease outbreaks” of global significance in Monday’s resolution.
However, they have put off making most of the necessary decisions, and some members are rejecting proposals to give the WHO more power and independence, fearing that it will impinge on their sovereignty.
They resolved to form a new working group to examine and condense the various recommendations made by three independent panels, and to develop tangible suggestions for consideration at next year’s assembly.
Expert panels found that countries and institutions were woefully unable to deal with Covid-19, painting a dismal picture.
They demanded a complete reform of the worldwide warning system, as well as a stronger, more autonomous WHO to aid in the prevention of future pandemics.
Treaty on Pandemics
The resolution issued on Monday urged all governments to improve their abilities to recognize new risks and convey them effectively both at home and abroad.
To ensure that all countries do their part, the resolution asked Tedros to consider launching a pilot project in which countries submit their pandemic preparedness plans for regular peer review by other member states, similar to how their human rights situations are reviewed before the UN Human Rights Council.
The resolution did not expressly support the experts’ request that the WHO be given greater authority to conduct investigations and speak about health hazards without waiting for approval from the countries involved.
The member nations also agreed to postpone negotiations on whether or not to move forward with the creation of an international pandemic treaty until November.
Tedros urged governments to “take advantage of the opportunity,” saying that a treaty on pandemic preparation would “strengthen both WHO and global health security.”
“We need a generational commitment that outlives budgetary cycles, election cycles, and media cycles,” he said.
“Other crises will demand our attention and distract us from the urgency of taking action,” he warned.
“If we make that mistake, we risk perpetuating the same cycle of panic and neglect that has led us to the point.”
With AFP inputs.