call-for-who-probe-into-covid-19-origin-summary

Context: Given the severity of COVID-19, international attention is currently riveted on the question of an inquiry into the origin of the COVID-19 and the WHO’s response to it.

More about the news:

  • An India-backed draft resolution at the 73rd session of the World Health Assembly received a big boost recently when various nations extended support for the motion which seeks global investigation into the spread of the novel coronavirus.
  • The development came soon after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the global body will look into the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Background:

  • The call for an international investigation was first voiced formally by the Australian prime minister recently. 
  • The first multilateral discussion of the issues raised by the COVID-19 crisis at the United Nations Security Council and the G-20 forum in the last few weeks were preliminary and polite. 
  • Now the entire international community, as the WHA has 194 members, has a voice in addressing the key issues raised by the COVID-19 crisis by debating the resolution.

The resolution

  • Australia is working with the European Union to promote a resolution at this week’s World Health Assembly (WHA), which brings ministers from all the member states of the WHO.
  • Resolution aims to evaluate possible food and animal-related sources that could have led to the spread of the deadly pandemic.
  • It calls for scientific investigation into the origins of the virus.
  • It also calls for an “impartial, independent, and comprehensive” evaluation into the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

International response towards the resolution

  • Whatever the fate of the resolution, the wide-ranging support it has got amidst the vocal Chinese opposition is considered impressive.
  • Australia and the EU:
    • They hope to have the resolution approved unanimously.
    • They also hope to persuade the US.
  • Among the co-sponsors of the proposal to seek global investigation into scientific “events” are Bangladesh, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., and Turkey.
  • US:
    • It had wanted tougher language including references to China, to endorse the resolution.
    • The U.S. has also already accused the WHO of acting as a “PR agency” for China during the pandemic. 
    • It has also accused that the WHO DG was complicit in keeping the world in the dark.
  • Africa:
    • African groups of nations extended support for the motion.
  • BRICS nations
    • All the BRICS nations have extended support towards the move except China.
  • China:
    • Some observers see a unanimous approval of the resolution as a diplomatic setback for China.
    • This is because limiting the demands for an external inquiry has been a major political priority for China.
    • However China’s success in quickly getting things under control at home and its expansive mask diplomacy seemed to give China an upper hand at the WHO.

Implications on India

  • India is set to take over as the next Chairperson of the World Health Organisation’s decision-making body in May 2020.
    • The chairperson’s position will come to India was decided last year when the WHO’s South-East Asia group unanimously proposed New Delhi to the executive board for a three-year term.
    • The group also nominated India for the chairperson’s post held by rotation for one year among regional groups.
  • Officials have confirmed that India’s nominee will take over as the Chairperson, replacing Japan.
  • India is likely to hold the post for the next three years. 
  • The timing of India’s appointment is crucial, given the worldwide debate on the role of the WHO during the pandemic, and criticism of the current WHO Director-General.
  • India is also faced with a major choice on whether to support a U.S. move to reinstate Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA) or to support China’s opposition to it.

What should be the priority areas for India after taking over the chair?

  • Beyond the immediate debates, India must look at the deeper issues that have hobbled the WHO.
  • Firstly India needs to develop new international norms that will increase the obligations of states and the powers of the WHO in facilitating early detection and notification of pandemics. 
    • This will involve finding ways to bridge the contested notions of state sovereignty and collective security.
  • Attention towards the question of funding
    • Over the decades, the WHO has become ever more reliant on voluntary contributions from governments and corporations rather than assessed contributions from the member states. 
    • This is going to leave the WHO rather vulnerable to pressures.
    • India needs to develop a proper mechanism so that the vulnerability of the WHO for funding can be reduced.
  • Attention towards a few but important topics
    • The WHO’s initial successes came when it focused on a few objectives like combating malaria and the elimination of smallpox
    • A limited agenda might also make the WHO a more effective organization.
  • Deepening cooperation between the members:
    • Sustained engagement with China, then, is as important for India as deeper cooperation with the US and the “Quad plus” nations.
      • The quadrilateral formation includes Japan, India, United States and Australia
      • “Plus” partners have included the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, France, and Sri Lanka. 
    • Also it is equally important to have a more intensive engagement with the non-aligned nations in promoting a new global regime on preventing and managing pandemics.

About World Health Assembly

  • The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO. 
  • It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. 
  • The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to 
    • determine the policies of the Organization, 
    • appoint the Director-General, 
    • supervise financial policies, and review and 
    • approve the proposed program budget. 
  • The Health Assembly is held annually in Geneva, Switzerland.

Administration: 

  • The World Health Organization is governed by two decision-making bodies: the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board. 
  • The World Health Assembly  comprises delegations from all 192 Member States.
  • WHO is headed by the Director-General, who is appointed by the Health Assembly on the nomination of the Executive Board.

 

73rd World Health Assembly

  • The 73rd WHA is the first-ever virtual health assembly.
  • It is also considered as the most important one ever; because the unprecedented threat of COVID-19 pandemic continues to kill thousands of people and also causing a deep global recession.

Highlights of India’s speech

  • India is playing a key role in fostering bilateral and regional partnerships. 
  • India has supplied essential medicines to 123 nations as an expression of solidarity.
  • India reiterated that the role of Therapeutics, diagnostics, and vaccines for the whole world is the only way out of this pandemic. 
  • Global collaboration is paramount. Governments, industry, and philanthropy must pool resources to pay for the risk, the research, manufacturing, and distribution, but with the condition that the rewards should be available to everyone, regardless of where they have been developed.

 

Understanding the financial side of WHO

1.Sources of Funding for WHO

  • The WHO's budget is funded by a mix of assessed and voluntary contributions. 
  • Assessed contributions:
    • It mainly refers to financial support from the member-countries of the world body.
    • It is relative to the member- state’s wealth and population. 
  • Trends in funding of WHO:
    • The WHO claims that contributions from the member-states had declined over the years and now account for less than one-quarter of its program financing. 
    • The rest of the resources, it says, is raised through voluntary donation. 
    • The major European economies are among the bigger contributors to the organization.
 

Type

Percentage

1.Voluntary donations from member states

35.41%

2.Assessed contributions

15.66%

3.Philanthropic organizations

9.33%

4.UN organizations

8.1%

 

 

2.Utilisation of these funds

 

3.Who prioritizes the spending? 

  • Role of World Health Assembly:
    • The annual programme of work is passed by WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly. 
    • It is attended by delegates from all member states and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.
    • This body determines WHO policies, appoints the Director-General, supervises financial policies, and reviews and approves the proposed programme budget.
  • The decision on which country gets how much also depends on the individual situation in the countries.

Sources:

Image Source: TH