The 73rd session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) took place virtually from May 18-19. During the session, countries including India, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, UK and Canada accepted a resolution asking for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to the pandemic as well as the identification of the “zoonotic” source of the coronavirus. The origin of the virus is currently believed to be a wet market in Wuhan, China. 116 of the 194 member states were in favour of the resolution.
World Health Assembly (WHA):
- The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the forum through which the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its 194 member states.
- It is the world’s highest health policy setting body and is composed of health ministers from member states.
- In other words it is the Parliament of WHO.
- The members of the World Health Assembly generally meet every year in May in Geneva, the location of WHO Headquarters.
- The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organization, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.
- The resolution, initially proposed by some 60 countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Russia South Africa, the European Union and its member states, Turkey and the UK, was finally backed by more than 120 members
- While it does not mention China, the draft says the Director General of the WHO should continue “to work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and countries, as part of the One-Health Approach to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions, which will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events as well as to provide guidance on how to prevent SARS-COV2 infection in animals and humans and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, as well as to reduce further risks of emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases.”
- Further, the resolution states, “Initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with Member States, a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.”
- Resolution at the WHO assembly which is not binding and mentioned no countries by name also called for nations to commit to ensuring “transparent, equitable and timely access” to any treatments or vaccines developed against Covid-19
Why is the resolution important?
- It is important because the problem is being faced globally and all countries have been affected and economies have gone down.
- Since the pandemic, there has been increasing pressure on China, which so far has opposed suggestions for inquiry into the origins of the virus. Meanwhile, the US has repeatedly blamed the WHO and claims the organisation failed to obtain timely information and share it in a transparent fashion.
- US President Donald Trump threatened to permanently cut funding to the WHO.
- Last month, Trump halted funding to the organization after he said it had “missed the call” on the pandemic.
- At present, the US is the WHO’s biggest contributor and makes up over 14.67 per cent of the total funding, at $553.1 million
- Resolution has been endorsed at the WHA, it remains to be seen how the probe will be carried out and to what degree of independence. Significantly, the timeline of the probe is also not clear. So far, China has opposed demands calling for an international investigation into the virus.
- China has been isolated today and doing all sorts to clear its image.
- It announced a $2 billion donation to the United Nations, which is over twice the amount the US contributed before Trump cut off funding. It also offered to set up hospitals and health infrastructure in Africa.
Measures to strengthen WHO:
- Increase the WHO’s technical capacities and capabilities– Creating new departments focused on science, antimicrobial resistance and digital health will also broaden the WHO’s range of expertise and keep up with the latest public health challenges and opportunities.
- Help focus on the mission of WHO-which does not have the capacity to do everything and has frequently found itself responding to situations rather than setting its own agenda. It may also encourage member states to provide additional resources if they have a better idea of where that money is going.
- Coordinate with other global players– as these reforms do not address how the organization should interact with major global health players like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Doctors Without Borders.
- Mobilize more resources– WHO’s current biennial budget is 4.42 billion, with overwhelming majority dictated by donors and their priorities, which leaves the organization limited control over the funding.
- The countries should stop politicizing the virus and ramp up their capabilities to fight the pandemic without overwhelming the healthcare infrastructure.
- Global cooperation on the issue rather than issuing blame on each other. It augurs well for nations if WHO was strengthened with adequate finances.
- Any pandemic has a point of start and point of end, it is important to understand the source so as study the virus and develop vaccines accordingly.
- International agreement on early warning is needed.