WHO Chief Hails ‘Historic’ Agreement To Strengthen Organisation

This handout image provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 22, 2020 in Geneva shows WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attending the 147th session of the WHO Executive Board held virtually by videoconference, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus. Christopher Black / World Health Organization / AFP
File: Christopher Black / World Health Organization / AFP


World Health Organization members agreed Monday to strengthen the global body at the heart of the pandemic response and give it a more secure financial base from which to future health crisis.

Many of the details of the concrete measures needed have been left to a future date, as members continue to debate how much power to cede to UN body.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the resolution passed on the last day of the UN health agency’s annual meeting of its 194 member states as “historic”.

“The world needs a stronger WHO at the centre of the global health architecture,” he said.

A year and a half after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed more than 3.5 million people, member states agreed to strengthen the organisation at the heart of the global response to the crisis.

The 14-page resolution adopted Monday vowed among other things to remove the uncertainty around the organisation’s funding.

Member states committed to “ensure the adequate, flexible, sustainable and predictable financing of WHO’s programme budget”.

Only about 16 percent of the agency’s budget currently comes from regular membership fees. The rest comes coming from voluntary contributions which are heavily earmarked by countries for particular projects.

– ‘Debilitating cycle’ –

Tedros pointed out that even in the midst of the crisis, low and uncertain funding levels had meant programmes were being planned “in a debilitating cycle of financial ebb and flow”.

“WHO cannot grow stronger without sustainable financing,” he said in closing remarks to the 74th World Health Assembly, which has been held virtually over the past week.

“We cannot pay people with praise.”

With Monday’s resolution, countries also agreed to “strengthen WHO’s capacity to rapidly and appropriately assess disease outbreaks” of possible global concern.

But they put off deciding most of the steps required, and some members are resisting moves to hand more power and independence to the WHO for fear it might encroach on their sovereignty.

They decided to create a new working group to study and streamline numerous recommendations presented by three independent panels, and create concrete proposals for next year’s assembly to consider.

The expert panels had painted a bleak picture, finding that countries and institutions had been woefully unprepared to deal with Covid-19.

They called for a total overhaul of the global alarm system, and for a stronger, more independent WHO to help avert future pandemics.

– Pandemic treaty –

Monday’s resolution called on all countries to increase their ability to detect new threats and to communicate such threats effectively at home and abroad.

To ensure all nations do their part, the resolution asked Tedros to consider creating a pilot project in which countries would submit their pandemic preparedness plans to regular peer reviews by other members states — just as they undergo reviews of their rights situations before the UN Human Rights Council.

The resolution stopped short of explicitly backing the experts’ recommendation to hand the WHO broader powers to launch investigations or communicate about health threats without waiting for a green light from the countries concerned.

The member states also decided to put off until November discussions about whether or not to move towards creating an international pandemic treaty.

Tedros urged countries to “seize the moment”, insisting a treaty on pandemic preparedness would go a long way to “strengthen both WHO and global health security.”

“We need a generational commitment that outlives budgetary cycles, election cycles and media cycles,” he said.

“Other crises will demand our attention and distract us from the urgency of taking action,” he warned.

“If we make that mistake, we risk perpetuating the same cycle of panic and neglect that has led us to the point.”


COVID-19 Highlights Urgent Need To Reboot Global Effort To End Tuberculosis – WHO

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) on July 3, 2020, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP


An estimated 1.4 million fewer people received care for Tuberculosis (TB) in 2020 than in 2019, according to preliminary data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) from over 80 countries- a reduction of 21% from 2019.

The countries with the biggest relative gaps were Indonesia (42%), South Africa (41%), the Philippines (37%), and India (25%).

“The effects of COVID-19 go far beyond the death and disease caused by the virus itself. The disruption to essential services for people with TB is just one tragic example of the ways the pandemic is disproportionately affecting some of the world’s poorest people, who were already at higher risk for TB,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

Building up health systems so everyone can get the services they need is key. Some countries have already taken steps to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on service delivery, by strengthening infection control; expanding the use of digital technologies to provide remote advice and support, and providing home-based TB prevention and care.

But many people who have TB are unable to access the care they need. WHO fears that over half a million more people may have died from TB in 2020, simply because they were unable to obtain a diagnosis.

This is not a new problem: before COVID-19 struck, the gap between the estimated number of people developing TB each year and the annual number of people officially reported as diagnosed with TB was about 3 million. The pandemic has greatly exacerbated the situation.

One way to address this is through restored and improved TB screening to rapidly identify people with TB infection or TB disease. New guidance issued by WHO on World TB Day aims to help countries identify the specific needs of communities, the populations at highest risk of TB, and the locations most affected to ensure people can access the most appropriate prevention and care services. This can be achieved through the more systematic use of screening approaches that employ novel tools.

These include the use of molecular rapid diagnostic tests, the use of computer-aided detection to interpret chest radiography, and the use of a wider range of approaches for screening people living with HIV for TB. The recommendations are accompanied by an operational guide to facilitate roll-out.

But this will not be enough alone. In 2020, in his report to the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General issued a set of 10 priority recommendations that countries need to follow.

These include activating high-level leadership and action across multiple sectors to urgently reduce TB deaths; increasing funding; advancing universal health coverage for TB prevention and care; addressing drug resistance, promoting human rights, and intensifying TB research.

And critically, it will be vital to reducing health inequities.

“For centuries, people with TB have been among the most marginalized and vulnerable. COVID-19 has intensified the disparities in living conditions and ability to access services both within and between countries,” says Dr. Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme.

“We must now make a renewed effort to work together to ensure that TB programmes are strong enough to deliver during any future emergency – and look for innovative ways to do this.”