Context: The 73rd session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) recently took place virtually.
More about the news:
- During this session, countries including India, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, UK, and Canada accepted a resolution
- It asks for an “impartial, independent, and comprehensive evaluation” of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to the COVID-19.
- It also calls for the identification of the “zoonotic” source of the COVID-19.
- According to a Reuters report, 116 of the 194 member countries were in favor of the resolution.
- Apart from this resolution, WHA also addressed a global vaccine action plan with the “Immunisation Agenda 2030”
- It aims to ensure immunization for all age groups to prevent the spread of preventable diseases and sustaining vaccine supplies.
Further details of the draft resolution
- It was brought forward by the European Union (EU) and moved by Australia on behalf of more than 100 countries including India, Australia, and Japan.
- It does not mention China. However, the draft says the Director-General of the WHO should continue to work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and countries as part of the One-Health Approach to identify
- the zoonotic source of the virus
- the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts
- efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions, which will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events.
- The move will also provide guidance on how to prevent COVID-19 infection in animals and humans and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, as well as to reduce further risks of emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases.
- The resolution further states to Initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with the Member States,
- A stepwise process of impartial, independent, and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms.
- To review the experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to the current health crisis.
- While the resolution has been endorsed at the WHA, it remains to be seen how the probe will be carried out and to what degree of independence. However, the timeline of the probe is also not clear.
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.
- It had wanted tougher language including references to China, to endorse the resolution.
- African groups of nations extended support for the motion.
- BRICS nations
- All the BRICS nations have extended support towards the move except 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.
- Mask diplomacy: By shipping medical supplies to European countries, China is seeking to boost its image as a responsible global leader.
Increasing pressure on WHO
- Criticism of the organization by US president:
- The US has repeatedly blamed the WHO and claims that the organization failed to obtain timely information and share it in a transparent fashion.
- The US President has also threatened to permanently cut funding to the WHO.
- At present, the US is the WHO’s biggest contributor and makes up over 14.67 percent of the total funding, at $553.1 million.
- Us also says that the WHO’s response was “China-centric” and suggested that the WHO had gone along with China’s efforts to under-represent the severity of the outbreak.
- The US also says that China continues to undermine the International Health Regulations by refusing to share accurate and timely data, viral samples and isolates.
Stance taken by China
- Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increasing pressure on China, which so far has opposed suggestions for inquiry into the origins of the virus.
- China has announced a $2 billion donation to the United Nations, which is over twice the amount the US contributed before the US President cut off funding.
- China has also offered to set up hospitals and health infrastructure in Africa.
- China says that it supports” the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response towards Covid-19 after it was brought under control.
- However The US administration sees China’s announcement as a way to escape scrutiny over its alleged role in delaying providing information about the disease outbreak.
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 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.
- 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.
1.Voluntary donations from member states
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.
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