Ahead of the World Health Assembly:
Next week, the 194-member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) will convene in Geneva for the 71st World Health Assembly (WHA), setting the WHO program of work for the coming year and holding critical discussions on global health.
The EAGL Coalition supports the WHO’s vital mission in improving global health for all, and its ability to leverage core strengths in areas such as disease response and strengthening health systems. However, we are increasingly concerned that many actions taken by the WHO in recent years have undermined that goal, such as sidelining vital partners in the private sector, overreaching to prioritize issues outside of the WHO’s scope not driven by member states, and driving narrow, non-transparent approaches to global health concerns.
By embracing initiatives that shut out stakeholders, the WHO creates nontransparent programs that are accountable only to Geneva, rather than the countries that support their work, and create controversial, unproductive discussions on issues that distract from critical work to fight global health problems.
In the leadup to the WHA, we’ll look at four main issues that the WHO has sought to tackle, but where its approach does not reflect the transparency and accountability that its members demand. Specifically, WHO-led initiatives to:
- Address the global shortage of, and access to, medicines and vaccines
- Incentivize innovation and intellectual property
- Combat non-communicable diseases
- Address global nutrition issues
Each of these goals is vital to improving global health and requires comprehensive and sustainable solutions. Instead, each of these conversations has been characterized by limited transparency and accountability to member states and other stakeholders. At the same time, the WHO lobbies member states to adopt approaches that controversially target singular issues or problem indicators, an overly narrow course that is often divisive and counterproductive. Each of these issues – a lack of transparency, little to no accountability and overly narrow focus – undermines these important efforts.
In doing so, these programs deviate significantly from the traditional strengths of an organization that was instrumental in health breakthroughs such as the eradication of smallpox. Today’s challenges are no less difficult and exist in a far more complex and interconnected world. That complexity requires consensus, not controversy.
At the WHA, the WHO must commit to greater transparency and accountability to return to its core missions. We believe that the WHO can once again be an effective champion for global health, but that it must do so with a significant change in its approach and its advocacy.