Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

Only WHO

No other agency can match it for reach and credibility. It can be questioned, must not be undermined

who coronavirus covid-19, WHO funding Donald Trump, WHO Coronavirus Covid-19, Covid-19 Coronavirus, indian express editorial In the past three decades, the WHO has helped nations frame strategies during outbreaks such as Zika, Ebola and HIV/AIDS.

At a time when the world is fighting its worst pandemic in decades, its premier health agency has, unfortunately, been caught in the crossfire of an unseemly battle between its two leading powers. After fulminating against the WHO for weeks for being “Beijing-centric” and accusing it of failing to do enough to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading after it first surfaced in China, US President Donald Trump announced, on Tuesday, that he is cutting off funds to the global health body. “Funding would be on hold for 60 to 90 days pending a review of the WHO’s warnings about the coronavirus and China,” he said. The White House has said that the US funds are likely to go to other international health outfits. No other health agency, however, can match the WHO in reach — and credibility.

The WHO’s recommendations are not set in stone. Indeed, as this paper reported last week, India has not followed the global health agency’s advice on combating the coronavirus to the hilt — and rightly so. Many of the WHO’s actions are also not above criticism. But the global agency’s decades-long work in low and middle-income countries and its robust understanding of a variety of cultural contexts mean that an empowered WHO holds the key to protecting the interests of the poor and most vulnerable countries during the pandemic. The WHO has guided the immunisation programmes in several countries, including India; it has been at the forefront of the fight against several diseases, with notable successes such as eradicating smallpox globally and eliminating polio in several parts of the world; it has helped draw up agendas on mental health and persuaded its members to sign landmark conventions on tobacco-control. In the past three decades, the WHO has helped nations frame strategies during outbreaks such as Zika, Ebola and HIV/AIDS. The agency’s role in developing a vaccine against Ebola, in fact, illuminates one of its key advantages – no other health outfit can bring together scientists, industry, regulators and governments during a public health emergency as rapidly as the WHO.

In a globalised world, pathogens such as viruses and bacteria cannot be contained within national borders. But the coronavirus pandemic seems to have exacerbated isolationist tendencies in the world. Information sharing between nations has not always been adequate and countries have often resorted to unfair trade practices with respect to scarce resources such as personal protection equipment. In such a situation, the WHO has often been the sobering voice, calling for international solidarity. Even as they need to question it sometimes, nations need to add their weight to the global health agency’s voice – not undermine it in a critical time.

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First published on: 16-04-2020 at 03:30:20 am
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