Viewpoint: Why Proposed WHO Reforms Aren’t Enough to Deal With the Next Epidemic

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Every May, the members of the World Health Organization (WHO) meet in Geneva for the World Health Assembly (WHA). WHA is incredibly important for how WHO operates, as this is the meeting that determines the organization’s policies and approves its budget. This year’s WHA garnered far more international attention, as it was the first time the member-states were coming together to discuss WHO reforms in the wake of its response to Ebola.

The Constitution of the World Health Organization specifies that the organization’s purpose is to “act as the direction and co-ordinating authority on international health work.” In the West African Ebola outbreak, though, WHO failed as a director and coordinator. Director-General Margaret Chan has said that WHO must change before the next global pandemic. Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, has called WHO “overly-politicized,” “too bureaucratic,” and “timid.” An interim assessment report of WHO’s Ebola response recognized the complexity of the outbreak, but lambasted the organization for its “serious gaps” in responding.

In response to these flaws, Chan announced a series of reforms to WHO at the opening of the Assembly. These reforms will:

These reforms may change how WHO operates, but they are not the sorts of reforms that will fundamentally alter its operations or address its most striking shortcomings: WHO’s relationship with regional health organizations, and the size and flexibility of its budget. I highlighted these issues in an article I wrote in PS: Political Science and Politics earlier this year as part of a special symposium on the politics and policy of Ebola, and they will continue to impede WHO’s ability to lead effective international responses to disease outbreaks.

Source: The Washington Post (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
infectious diseases