- The 73rd session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) took place virtually from May 18-19.
- During the session, countries including India, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, UK and Canada accepted a resolution asking for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to the pandemic as well as the identification of the “zoonotic” source of the coronavirus.
What is the Background?
- The origin of the virus is currently believed to be a wet market in Wuhan, China.
- 116 of the 194 member states were in favour of the resolution.
What is the World Health Assembly?
- The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the forum through which the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its 194 member states.
- It is the world’s highest health policy setting body and is composed of health ministers from member states.
- The members of the WHA generally meet every year in May in Geneva at the Palace of Nations, the location of WHO Headquarters.
- Its main functions are to determine the policies of the Organization, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.
What is the WHA draft resolution?
- The resolution brought forward by the European Union (EU) and moved by Australia on behalf of more than 100 countries including India, Australia and Japan, was endorsed at the Assembly.
- While it does not mention China, the draft says the Director General of the WHO should continue “to work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and countries, as part of the One-Health Approach to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions, which will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events as well as to provide guidance on how to prevent SARS-COV2 infection in animals and humans and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, as well as to reduce further risks of emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases.”
- Further, the resolution states, “Initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with Member States, (1) a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, (2) as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.”
Why is the resolution important?
- Since the pandemic, there has been increasing pressure on China, which so far has opposed suggestions for inquiry into the origins of the virus.
- Meanwhile, the US has repeatedly blamed the WHO and claims the organisation failed to obtain timely information and share it in a transparent fashion.
- The US has said that the pandemic “had spun out of control” in great part due to a costly “failure” by the WHO.
What does this mean for China?
- While the resolution has been endorsed at the WHA, it remains to be seen how the probe will be carried out and to what degree of independence. Significantly, the timeline of the probe is also not clear.
- So far, China has opposed demands calling for an international investigation into the virus.
- China’s premier Xi Jinping announced a $2 billion donation to the United Nations, which is over twice the amount the US contributed before Trump cut off funding.
- It also offered to set up hospitals and health infrastructure in Africa.
- Speaking at the opening ceremony of the WHA, Xi said China “supports” the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response towards Covid-19 after it was brought under control.
- The Trump administration sees China’s announcement as a way to escape scrutiny over its alleged role in delaying providing information about the disease outbreak.
While the resolution has been endorsed at the WHA, it remains to be seen how the probe will be carried out and to what degree of independence. Significantly, the timeline of the probe is also not clear. So far, China has opposed demands calling for an international investigation into the virus.