WHO’s Funding Must be Diversified To Prevent Repeat Of Budget Crisis Triggered By US Withdrawal, Say Executive Board Members
The meeting of the 148th session of the WHO Exeuctive Board.

Reform and diversification of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) funding model is vital if the global health body is to avoid repeating the consequences of the US’s withdrawal in April 2020, member states have said during WHO’s Executive Board meetings.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the “open secret” within the field of global health that WHO has long suffered from disproportionate expectations and resources, Singapore said Wednesday, during the 148th EB session.

“Stable funding will be required for adequacy, predictability and stability they have been lacking in WHO’s budget for some time now,” the EB representative said.

It is no coincidence that such a reference to predictability and stability was made on the same that the new US President Joe Biden’s inauguration: a day that also marked the first step in the country’s return to the global health organization.

In April, former President Donald Trump announced that the US was to immediately suspend its WHO funding, followed in July by his announcement that the country would withdraw from the Organization entirely.

Trump’s decision highlighted the delicate nature of the Organization’s resource base, which relies heavily on voluntary donations from member states as well as from other charities. At the time Trump gave notice, the US was the biggest single donor to WHO, providing US$400 million in 2019, and accounting for around 15% of its annual budget.

And it was as Biden made his way to the Capitol for his inauguration, on 20 January, that the WHO Executive Board members were examining the future of the body’s financing.

Top contributors to WHO’s Budget (2018) – The United States has historically been the largest contributor overall.

“It is timely to initiate a discussion on sustainable financing for the WHO, to take a comprehensive look at its functions, work, and associated costs,” the representative from Canada noted.

Furthering the point that there is a growing gap between what Member States expect from WHO and what resources are currently available to meet those expectations, he added:

“The challenges arising from the current funding model are evident in the persistent pockets of poverty across various technical areas as well as in the chronic underfunding of particular WHO functions including core science and normative work, emergency preparedness and enabling functions such as internal oversight.”

The US’ decision to rejoin the body, and pay up on its contributions, as Biden’s newly appointed Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci promised to do on Thursday (see related HPW story)  is clearly a positive step towards restabilizing WHO’s finances, EB members said. But that doesn’t solve the long-term problems of the Organization, which include an overreliance on a few key member states, as well as on voluntary contributions, which may vary year to year, instead of fixed member state assessments.

Other budget challenges include the need to improve staffing and resources at country level – which are at the core of WHO’s work with governments and Ministries of Health.

The committee also noted that improving geographical representation among WHO staff should be considered through the lens of member states geographical representation— and not that of WHO regions.

Also, although WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has trumpeted the fact that his senior staff has reached gender parity – in lower levels of the Organization and particularly in countries and regional offices, men still well outnumber women professionals, the EB committee members noted, saying that more steps be taken towards the goal of gender parity at all levels, especially among heads of country offices.

Image Credits: WHO, WHO .

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