Context: Recently, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare of India was elected the Chair of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) executive board.
More on the news:
- The elevation to the position affords India an important platform to steer the global public health response to COVID-19.
- This also comes at a time when the WHO is being rocked politically as never before.
What should be the focus areas for India?
- Epidemic prevention and control
- India needs to insist that epidemic prevention and control remain the international community’s foremost priority.
- As the virus’ chain of transmission is broken, the focus should shift to identifying the animal-to-human transmission origins of COVID-19.
- China shares an important interest in facilitating international access to investigate COVID-19’s zoonotic origins.
- Wuhan and other previously infected zones could yet be susceptible to the risk of viral reintroduction.
- Review the response to the COVID-19 outbreak
- India should also lean on the WHO secretariat to fast-track the “impartial, independent, and comprehensive review” of the WHO’s – and China’s – early response to the outbreak.
- The review’s findings should illuminate best practices and highlight areas for improvement, both in the WHO’s leadership and capacity.
- It also should focus on member states’ implementation of the International Health Regulations.
- Equitable access to COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines
- India needs to promote the establishment of an appropriate multilateral governance mechanism in WHO for ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines for all countries.
- The envisaged voluntary pooling mechanism to collect patent rights and regulatory test data needs to be suitably tailored to the needs of the crisis.
- The World Health Organization director-general has recently endorsed the idea of creating a voluntary pool to collect patent rights, regulatory test data, and other information that could be shared for developing drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics.
- Also intellectual property rights provisions override is allowed during a public health emergency.
- Stay aloof from the campaign to re-seat Taiwan as an observer at the WHA
- When Taiwan last attended in 2016, it did so under the explicit aegis of UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, whereby the UN considers Taiwan to be an integral part of the People’s Republic of China.
- That the independence-minded Tsai government is unwilling to concede this basis for attendance has more to do with domestic political maneuvering than Chinese or international ostracism.
- Global ban on the consumption and trade of wild animals
- India must lead the call for a permanent global ban on the consumption and trade of wild animals, with limited exceptions built-in for scientific research, species protection, and traditional livelihood interests.
- With two-thirds of emerging infections and diseases now arising from wildlife, the destruction of natural habitats and biodiversity loss needs to be taken much more seriously.
- 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.
- 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; noncommunicable 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.
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.