The relevance of the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as its current shortcomings

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Question – The evolving global situation due to COVID-19 simultaneously highlights the relevance of the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as its current shortcomings. Discuss. 31 January 2022

AnswerThe outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic requires a proactive response from the World Health Organization (WHO), as it is responsible for directing and coordinating international public health issues. The relevance of WHO in the contemporary scenario is visible as follows:

  • Declaration of a public health emergency of international concern or epidemic: It acts as a central coordinating body for an integrated and time bound international response by providing accurate information, busting dangerous myths, declaring health emergencies, etc.
  • Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan: It issues guidelines to assist countries in preparing and responding to a global health emergency that requires action and the resources to deal with it.
  • To accelerate R&D: The Solidarity Vaccine Trial, a multinational organization of vaccine scientists, has been set up by WHO to evaluate the progress of countries/organizations with the highest potential for vaccine development or global clinical trials of those vaccines.
  • Ensuring Important Objections: Through its Access to Covid 19 Tools accelerator program, the WHO has united governments, scientists, civil society, businesses and health organizations on a single platform to accelerate the development, production and availability of tests, treatments and vaccines.
  • Assistance to at-risk poor and vulnerable countries: It is working towards the creation of a special fund such as the ‘Covid 19 Solidarity Response Fund’ to ensure equitable access to vaccines and especially to help countries with poor health outcomes.

However, the current crisis has also exposed serious structural constraints and weaknesses in the WHO, such as:

  • With limited funding and a lack of ability to guide the international response to deadly pandemics, the body has to rely on influential member states such as the United States and China.
  • It has only recommendatory powers and it does not have the power to bind and restrict its members.
  • The poorly coordinated structure, which has caused the body to delay publicly acknowledging the level of crisis created by the outbreak in China, at the same time, it failed to alert the world at the right time so that effective policies could be implemented in countries around the world.

Going beyond differences, WHO members should take advantage of the opportunity presented by the current health crisis. Strengthening the structure of comprehensive global governance requires a rethink. At the same time, issues like dependence on donors and weak capacity should be addressed on a priority basis.

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