IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

The WHO’s relevance is fading  

11th August, 2020 Editorial


COVID-19 has infected more than 19 million people, claimed over 0.7 million lives and devastated economies. An early warning and timely policy measures by the WHO would have forewarned countries and set their preparatory efforts in motion for mounting a decisive response strategy.

Slow response

  • With regional offices in six geographical regions and country offices across 150 countries, the WHO was expected to play the dual role of a think tank and oversee global responses to public health emergencies.
  • It was reported that the earliest COVID-19 positive case in China was reported in November, but China informed the WHO about the disease only in January.
  • Even though confirmed cases were reported from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the U.S. in January, the WHO continued to downplay the severity of the virus.
  • It took some inexplicable decisions and actions such as declaring the pandemic as a public health emergency of international concern only on January 30 and ignoring Taiwan’s hints of human-to-human transmission and requests on sharing “relevant information”.
  • Further, the WHO went on to praise China’s response to the pandemic.

Problem in structure

  • The WHO has been reduced to a coordinating body, beholden to the interests of rich member states.
  • Its functional efficiency has been disadvantaged with organizational lethargy, absence of decisive leadership, bureaucratic indolence, underfunded programmes and inability to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century.
  • Director General Tedros Adhanom has been criticised for his leadership abilities during this pandemic. In contrast, Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director General of the WHO (1998-2003), spearheaded the global health response with a host of significant policy decisions.

Relying on rich member states

  • WHO is funded through assessed contributions made by the member states and voluntary contributions from member states and private donors.
  • While assessed contributions can be spent as per the organisation’s priorities approved at the World Health Assembly, the irregular voluntary contributions are allocated in consultation with the donors.