Context: India would now be playing a more important role at the World Health Organisation (WHO), with the Union Health Minister reportedly set to take charge as chairman of the WHO Executive Board.
More about the news:
- India would succeed Japan, which is currently the Chairman of the 34-member WHO Executive Board at its 147th session.
- Last year, the South East Asia Regional block at the WHO had unanimously decided that India’s nominee would be elected to the executive board for a three-year term beginning May.
India at the WHO
- India became a party to the WHO Constitution on 12 January 1948.
- The first session of the South East Asia Regional Committee was held in October 1948 in the office of the Indian Minister of Health, and was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.
- The first Regional Director for South-East Asia was an Indian, Dr Chandra Mani, who served between 1948-1968.
- Currently, the post has again been occupied by an Indian appointee, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, who has been in office since 2014.
- Since 2019, Dr Soumya Swaminathan has been the WHO’s Chief Scientist.
What should be the focus areas for India?
- 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 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.
- WHO was set up on April 7, 1948 after its constitution was signed by 61 countries on July 22, 1946 at the first meeting of the World Health Assembly.
- The Geneva-headquartered organization has six regional offices and 194 members currently.
- Its primary role is to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations system.
Its main areas of work are health systems; health through the life-course; non communicable and communicable diseases; preparedness, surveillance and response; and corporate services.
WHO’s functions are
- To act as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work;
- To establish and maintain effective collaboration with the United Nations, specialized agencies, governmental health administrations, professional groups and such other organizations as may be deemed appropriate;
- To assist Governments, upon request, in strengthening health services;
- To furnish appropriate technical assistance and, in emergencies, necessary aid upon the request or acceptance of Governments;
- Members of the United Nations may become Members of the Organization by signing or otherwise accepting WHO’s Constitution in accordance with the provisions of Chapter XIX and in accordance with their constitutional processes.
- Territories or groups of territories which are not responsible for the conduct of their international relations may be admitted as Associate Members by the Health Assembly.
The World Health Organization is governed by two decision-making bodies: the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board. Details of both have been provided below:
The WHO Executive Board
The Executive Board is composed of 34 members technically qualified in the field of health each designated by a Member State that has been elected to serve by the World Health Assembly.
The members are being elected for three-year terms.
The Executive Board chairman’s post is held by rotation for one year by each of the WHO’s six regional groups:
- These regional groups are African Region, Region of the Americas, South-East Asia Region, European Region, Eastern Mediterranean Region, and the Western Pacific Region.
- To give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.
- The Executive Board and the Health Assembly create a forum for debate on health issues and for addressing concerns raised by Member States.
Both the Executive Board and the Health Assembly produce three kinds of documents
- Resolutions and Decisions passed by the two bodies,
- Official Records as published in WHO Official publications
- Documents that are presented “in session” of the two bodies.
The WHO Health Assembly
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.
- 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.