Necessary: a reformed WHO | HT Editorial – Editorials
The decision of the United States to stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO) could not be more timely. WHO remains the closest thing to an international coordinating and information-gathering body during the pandemic. At a time when multilateral cooperation could not be more necessary, the President of the United States (US), Donald Trump, has concluded that there is a greater political benefit by activating the agency. Its action is partially symbolic: The United States has already provided funds for this financial year.
However, much of the blame falls on the WHO. CEO Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus allowed his organization to become entangled in a great power rivalry. This is a minefield that all multilateral organizations must avoid. He tried an accommodation strategy to convince China to be more open about the pandemic, to the point of putting it down. The WHO issued a series of erroneous advice based on information provided by Beijing, including criticism of the decision by India and other countries to impose a travel ban on China. Some of his comments, such as criticizing Taiwan despite its exemplary handling of the virus, were free. The focus gave little. The WHO needed to take a harsher line, for example, about the limited access that foreign scientists have been reaching Covid-19 ground zero. The agency also has long-standing internal problems. Donors link much of their funding to specific programs; Therefore, it has a minimum capacity to be attentive to the events of the black swan. Its regional directors report to multiple national ministers of health. Half of its top 10 donors are non-governmental organizations. But many of these shortcomings ultimately stem from the agency’s long neglect by governments. The United States, whatever Trump’s views, has long been the WHO’s biggest advocate and contributes a quarter of its budget. China, despite its obvious influence, pays less money than Rotary International.
WHO has played a silent but crucial role in global health. It effectively runs health services in some 30 countries. India is also a beneficiary, especially in the agency’s efforts against tuberculosis and polio. WHO standard setting helps India serve as the world’s generic drug maker. The world cannot afford a money-hungry WHO, despite its failures, in times of pandemic. India should consider joining other governments to commit to filling any financial gap that may occur. New Delhi must also clearly warn the agency to be more open when calling on China and other governments that are failing to meet their medical obligations.