WHO Proposes High-Level Global Council to Guide Future Health Emergencies
The 2022 World Health Assembly.

A high-level council to govern global health emergencies, made up of heads of state and other international leaders, is one of the proposals to be discussed by the World Health Organization (WHO) this year.

It is the first of 10 proposals to strengthen the WHO’s response to health emergencies put forward by WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a document published late last week.

The proposals, distilled from the numerous inputs from member states and global health in light of COVID-19, will be considered by the body’s executive board meeting from 30 January to 7 February.

The executive board develops the agenda for the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly, the body’s highest decision-making forum.

The proposed global health emergency council would be guided by the principles of equity, inclusivity and coherence and “complement the Standing Committee of the Executive Board, and a main committee on emergencies of the World Health Assembly”, according to Tedros’s document.

Its three primary responsibilities would be to address “obstacles to equitable and effective health emergency preparedness, response and resilience (HEPR)”, foster compliance with, global health instruments including the International Health Regulations (2005), and “identify needs and gaps, swiftly mobilize resources, and ensure effective deployment and stewardship of these resources for HEPR”.

Balancing health and economic considerations

The second proposal aims to make targeted amendments to the International Health Regulations to address weaknesses exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly how to balance often contradictory health and economic considerations.

The third proposal is scaling up universal health and preparedness reviews and strengthening independent monitoring.

Proposal four addresses strengthening the health emergency workforce, while the fifth proposal is aimed at improving global coordination by standardising approaches to the “strategic planning, financing, operations and monitoring of health emergency preparedness and response”.

The other proposals address partnerships, better coordination between finance and health decision-makers and strengthening the Pandemic Fund set up by the World Bank.

The crucial ninth proposal calls for the expansion of funds available for a rapid, sustainable emergency response.

“Drawing on the experience of the ACT-Accelerator, the funding required for the rapid and equitable deployment of medical countermeasures against a pandemic pathogen is in the order of tens of billions of United States dollars,” according to the document.

It calls for the WHO Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE) to be expanded for immediate relief, but acknowledges that “an additional financing facility that is capable of disbursing large tranches of funding quickly should be triggered” following the CFE response.

“The triggers for activation of this draw-down facility should be pre-negotiated, transparent and based on the ‘no regrets’ precautionary principle,” it proposes. 

Strengthened WHO

The 10th proposal is for the WHO to be strengthened so that it can be at the centre of the global health emergency and preparedness architecture.

To achieve this, the WHO needs “the authority, sustainable financing and accountability to effectively fulfil its unique mandate as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work,” according to the document.

Should member states adopt a pandemic accord, this would “reinforce the legitimacy and authority of WHO and complement the steps that member states are already taking to ensure sustainable financing of the WHO”. 

The zero-sum conceptual draft of a pandemic accord was discussed by the WHO intergovernmental negotiating body at a meeting in December, with the final draft of the accord to be put forward at the World Health Assembly in 2024.

Explaining the need for the overhaul of the WHO, the document explains that “the fragmented nature of the current modes of health emergency governance, functional systems and financial mechanisms has given rise to a global health emergency preparedness, response and resilience architecture that is often less than the sum of its parts, and which fails to respond rapidly, predictably, equitably and inclusively to health emergencies”.

“It is vital that the world now seizes the chance to do things differently. The devastation caused by COVID-19 has brought a welcome sense of urgency to efforts to strengthen the way the world prepares for, prevents, detects and responds to health emergencies. It is equally vital, however, to ensure that the collective efforts of member states, the WHO Secretariat and partners at national, regional and global levels are coordinated, coherent and reflective of a broad and inclusive participation by all stakeholders.”

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