Editorial: Reform the WHO

It is time for reforms in the global health body to reflect the changing realities and improve preparedness for future pandemics

AuthorPublished: 15th May 2021  12:00 amUpdated: 14th May 2021  7:26 pm

A year-and-a-half after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc across the world, claiming over 33 lakh lives and infecting more than 16 crore people so far, an international panel has observed that the global catastrophe was preventable. The buck stops with the World Health Organization (WHO) as far as early warning about the virus and guiding the pandemic management is concerned. The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) has concluded in its report that the delayed declaration of an international health emergency by the WHO, coupled with various governments’ tardy response to the warnings, caused the virus to spread around the globe in no time. It is time for reforms in the global health body to reflect the changing realities and improve preparedness for future pandemics. The world cannot afford to be caught off guard in future. The WHO has not exactly covered itself in glory in these challenging times. During the early months of the pandemic, the UN agency kept insisting that mask-wearing was not recommended for the general public. It was only in June last year that the global body reversed its stand on this crucial matter. From the faltering early response to the confused and contradictory messaging, the WHO has been fumbling in its role as the global leader in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The alleged soft approach towards China and the delayed warnings about the spread of the virus have only made matters worse and hampered the coordinated global efforts.

There is a need for the global health body to be fully empowered to send investigators at short notice to track down new disease outbreaks and publish their findings without delay. The WHO, an underfunded organisation with limited political power, has consistently struggled to deliver on its role of guidance and coordination across its member-states. The IPPPR’s report comes ahead of the meeting of the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body. The 194-member states need to ponder over reforms to transform the global pandemic preparedness and response system, starting with pushing the WHO to put its own house in order. One of the main criticisms against the WHO is that it took too long to declare a public health emergency following the outbreak of coronavirus infections. It was found wanting in terms of taking stock of the rapidly evolving research findings on coronavirus and communicating clearly about them. The independent panel found that the present system is clearly unfit to prevent another novel and highly infectious pathogen, which could emerge at any time, from developing into a pandemic. International health regulations are too slow to curb a fast-moving virus.


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