Decision time in Geneva: for our health
The World Health Assembly will meet on May 24 in Geneva. This could be a watershed moment in sketching out a more coordinated and cooperative response to future pandemics.
This content was published on May 23, 2021 – 09:00 AM
The week-long assembly, which takes place virtually this year, is a gathering of high-ranking delegations from the 194 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO). It sets policy, makes appointments and reviews WHO’s budget.
This year’s edition could be the most watched ever, as the most recent clash over access to vaccines has not only pitted the developing world against developed countries, but also Western states against each other. .
Just weeks before the assembly began, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai threw a bombshell by announcing Washington’s support for a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) protections on Covid vaccines -19.
The announcement caught Europe, including Switzerland, with its large pharmaceutical sector, off guard. As reported by SWI swissinfo.ch, Switzerland is not prepared to give up patent protection so easily.
Although a final decision on an intellectual property waiver will be taken later this year by member states as part of the World Trade Organization negotiations, improving access to medicines and other health technologies. health will feature high on the AMS agenda.
The devil is in the details, as Geneva correspondent Imogen Foulkes learned during her conversation with health experts in the latest episode of the Inside Geneva podcast.
Initial response to the Wuhan epidemic
The WHO and China have been criticized for not acting quickly enough to contain the Covid-19 when it appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019. And despite the authorization of an international team of Experts in Wuhan earlier this year, China is suspected of withholding key information from the mission that could have led to a better understanding of the source of the outbreak.
Indeed, without Member States and regional cooperation, WHO is a paper tiger. SWI swissinfo.ch took a closer look at how the global body should – and in many cases – effectively coordinate its response to health emergencies. Much of the work done in WHO regional offices is unrecognized: building laboratory capacity so that viruses can be detected, improving local health systems and facilitating rapid and accurate outbreak notification.
One of the reasons for the weak international response to Covid-19 is that governments have failed to live up to their commitments to the International Health Regulations (IHR), designed explicitly in 2005 to strengthen global collaboration. Assembly delegates should take a close look at why they have proven to be so ineffective over the past 12 months.
In an interview, former WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda said: “The most fundamental question is whether countries believe that a multilateral and cooperative approach is desirable and whether it is feasible to the current era ”.
The level at which countries cooperate and set priorities is not only defined by governments. Private donors are playing an increasingly important role in shaping global policies and responses. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the second largest contributor to the WHO budget, accounting for over 9% of the organization’s funding.
While the good done by the private foundation is unquestionable, there are concerns that it grants individuals the power to influence global health priorities. “[The WHO] is beholden to a largely irresponsible private actor, ”Georgetown University’s Lawrence Gostin said in this article.
For her part, Linsey McGoey, professor of sociology at the University of Essex in the UK, says she believes Gates has an ideological interest in seeing measurable results on a rapid timescale, to show that ” billionaire philanthropy ‘works.
So how did the WHO get to the position it occupies today? an organization created to achieve a public good but “accountable” to individuals, and its role in coordinating a response to health emergencies undermined by its very members? In this video, we take a look at the achievements of WHO over its 73-year history and the many challenges it faces today.