- COVID-19 has infected more than 19 million people, claimed over 0.7 million lives and devastated economies.
- As the pandemic transcends geopolitical boundaries, timely global health interventions by the World Health Organization (WHO) duly supported by governments plays a crucial role.
Criticism of WHO’s role
- The WHO was expected to play the dual role of a think tank and oversee global responses to public health emergencies.
- The earliest COVID-19 positive case in China was reported in November, but China informed the WHO about the disease only in January.
- With the WHO country representative stationed in Beijing, it is unlikely that widespread transmission went unnoticed.
- An early warning and timely policy measures by the WHO would have forewarned countries and set their preparatory efforts in motion for mounting a decisive response strategy.
Ignoring hint of other countries
- Though confirmed cases were reported from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the U.S. in January, the WHO continued to downplay the severity of the virus.
- WHO declared the pandemic as a public health emergency of international concern only on January 30.
- It ignored Taiwan’s hints of human-to-human transmission and requests on sharing relevant information.
- The WHO has been reduced to a coordinating body, beholden to the interests of rich member states.
- Its functional efficiency has been disadvantaged with
- organisational lethargy
- absence of decisive leadership
- bureaucratic laziness
- underfunded programmes
- inability to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century.
Relying on rich member states
- WHO is funded through assessed contributions made by the member states and voluntary contributions from member states and private donors.
- While assessed contributions can be spent as per the organisation’s priorities approved at the World Health Assembly, the irregular voluntary contributions are allocated in consultation with the donors.
- While voluntary contributions accounted for nearly 80% of the budget in 2018-19, assessed contributions merely constituted 17% of the total budgetary support.
- The challenges owing to constrained finances restrict autonomy in decision-making by favouring a donor-driven agenda.
- Many countries, especially in Africa and Asia, rely predominantly on the WHO for enforcing policy decisions governing public health.
- Hence, WHO should not betray that trust because of political leanings and financial compulsions.
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