Germany & France Propose Reforms To Give The WHO More Power, Funding & Oversight
The World Health Organization Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

Germany and France are proposing sweeping reforms to strengthen the World Health Organization and ramp up funding for the agency.

A draft paper circulated by the two countries outlines ten key reforms to boost the WHO’s legal authority and funding, while also increasing oversight of the agency’s emergency operations, according to Reuters, which obtained a look at the document.

“Not only during the current pandemic, it has become clear that the WHO partly lacks the abilities to fulfill its mandate,” the document said. The reforms are clearly “pro-WHO,” a diplomat in Geneva familiar with the negotiations told Reuters.

One key proposed reform is the creation of an independent expert committee to assess WHO’s operations in emergency situations as they unfold.

In previous years, WHO has undergone extensive independent reviews only after pandemics have been beaten back. The ongoing independent review of the agency’s COVID-19 response, headed by former Liberian President and Nobel Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, is the first such review to take place as an emergency is unfolding.

While leaders and Health Ministers of both France and Germany have been upfront about their criticism of the WHO, both countries have also steadfastly stood behind the agency as it has weathered repeated attacks regarding its handling of the coronavirus crisis.

And unlike the United States, which followed up its strong criticism of the agency by withholding funding and announcing its intent to withdraw from the WHO, France and Germany are looking to prop up the Organization. Both countries have upped their contributions to the agency following the US’ withdrawal.

In fact, the draft document appeared to recommend giving the WHO more power to autonomously and independently investigate reports of new outbreaks. Currently, WHO must be invited into a country to investigate any outbreaks, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebryesus previously told reporters.

Additionally, the document urges Member States to provide more unspecified funding to the agency, which currently runs on a shoestring budget of about US$5 billion a year, approximately the same budget size as a large, sub-regional hospital.

More than 80% of the agency’s current budget is also earmarked for specific programs, meaning WHO only has about US $1 billion a year to deploy rapidly in the case of unpredicted emergencies.

Ramping up un-earmarked contributions will give the agency more flexibility to respond to outbreaks of novel diseases early, rather than spend time raising money for an emergency response, according to the document.

The proposed reforms could be discussed at the WHO as soon as mid-September, according to Reuters.

A WHO spokesperson declined to comment on the document.

Image Credits: U.S. Mission Geneva/ Eric Bridiers.

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