WHO Announces High Level Review Of Its Emergency Response Capacity
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at regular virtual press conference

The World Health Organization will establish a new high level review of the Organization’s capacity to respond todisease outbreaks in the framework of the International Health Regulations (IHR) that govern emergency response. 

The aim is to ensure that WHO is “as effective as possible in operations as they unfold,” announced Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday. 

The announcement follows from last week’s Franco-German proposal outlining ten key reforms to prop up the WHO, and to improve funding for the agency, whose two-year $US5 billion budget is as little as that of a ‘sub-regional hospital’, in the reported words of the draft proposal seen by Reuters.

Dr Tedros delivers the closing speech for the seventy-third World Health Assembly in May 2020

Depending on progress, the IHR review committee may present a preliminary assessment of WHO’s response capacity, and reform recommendations, as early as November at the second edition of this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA). The WHA met in abridged session in May, due to the pandemic.  

“Earlier today I informed WHO’s Member States that I plan to establish an IHR Review Committee to advise me on whether any changes to the IHR may be necessary to ensure this powerful tool of international law is as effective as possible,” said Dr. Tedros on Thursday.

In other developments, the WHO recommended that in light of the surging number of COVID-19 cases and limitations of current tests, countries must focus on targeted COVID-19 testing strategies geared towards the ‘right individuals’ – although “new possibilities” may allow for COVID-19 testing in the wider population as early as next year.

A New Committee To Examine the IHR And Recommend Reforms   

Even before the pandemic, past health emergencies like eastern DRC’s Ebola outbreak had demonstrated that ‘some elements’’ of the IHRs, the WHO’s legal framework that governs preparedness and response for health emergencies, “may need” to be reviewed, said Dr. Tedros on Thursday.

One of the less controversial reforms under discussion is the IHR’s mechanism to declare international health emergencies, which Tedros described as “binary” this Thursday.

“The system of alert right now is either we have an emergency or we have nothing”, said Gian Luca Burci, former World Health Organization head legal counsel, at a webinar several months ago, at which he outlined key reforms to bolster the Agency. “There is a growing consensus [that this system must be replaced by] something much more incremental.”

The new IHR committee will be made up of independent experts that will examine “various aspects of the IHRs”, in collaboration with the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, which was created last month – and with the Independent Oversight Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

Image Credits: WHO / Antoine Tardy, WHO, WHO / Antoine Tardy.

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