WHO’s uphill struggle

Often criticised for the failings of a huge global organisation, the World Health Organization remains a safe haven. The Director-General explains

Speaking to the press on 8 April, the WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, remarked that 9 April “marks 100 days since WHO was notified of the first cases of ‘pneumonia with unknown cause’ in China. It’s incredible to reflect on how dramatically the world has changed, in such a short period of time.” After giving a quick overview of the organisation’s strategy (the text available in full at https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19--8-april-2020), Tedros summarised the situation as follows: “We have been working day and night... first, we’ve worked to support countries in building their capacity to prepare and respond through WHO’s network of 6 regional offices and 150 country offices... we issued a Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, which identified the major actions countries need to take, and the resources needed to carry them out... More than US$800 million has been pledged... that includes more than US$140 million (raised) from more than 229,000 individuals and organisations.”

WHO is facing a challenging time, a situation typical of emergencies (a summary of the criticism of WHO can be read here https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/world/asia/trump-who-coronavirus-china.html). Under fire, the organisation is accused of bureaucratic slowness, the mismanagement of funds, an inability to respond quickly, and political bias. But what if WHO, even with all the weaknesses typical of a massive organisation, did not exist?  WHO, explains Tedros, has “...activated the world’s leading epidemiologists, clinicians, social-scientists, statisticians, virologists, risk communicators and others, to make our response truly global and capture all the support we need from all over the world... just in the past two days we convened an online workshop to crowdsource ideas from over 600 experts, institutions and individuals on ways to combat the infodemic (misinformation and cybercrime in the COVID-19 crisis)”.

And in its defence? COVID-19 requires reliable responses based on accurate and trusted data, and a daily battle against unsubstantiated news or based on inadequately validated trials. In February, WHO brought together more than 400 researchers from around the world to identify and speed up research priorities and developed protocols that are used in more than 40 countries in order to better understand the transmission, epidemiology and clinical characteristics of the virus. Finally, 130 scientists, financial backers and manufacturers from around the world signed a declaration of commitment to work with WHO to accelerate the development of a vaccine against the virus. Will it be enough? In the coming days, the Geneva-based organisation will launch an updated strategy and a revised Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, with an estimate of the financial requirements for the next phase of the response.

Finally, the standpoint on the need for a global and collective campaign endorsed by authoritative leaders of European and African think tanks and research centres should be noted: “While all nations are threatened and struggling to avoid the abyss, it is necessary, more than ever, to think globally and to adapt locally the response strategies in order to protect the world’s most vulnerable communities. Not only are they at risk of the virus itself, but its political, economic, and social aftermath. Global pandemics do not come cheap. And they are expensive to combat, especially for the poor... As a group of think-tankers from Europe and Africa, we believe it is crucial to draw global attention to the impact of Corona in Africa. The crisis is a rendezvous with globalisation and global poverty. It should become an opportunity for international co-operation”.

It is signed by 
Yonas Adepto, Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Ethiopia
Karim El Aynaoui, Policy Center for the New South, Morocco
Thomas Gomart, Institute of International Relations, France
Paolo Magri, Institute for International Political Studies, Italy
Greg Mills, The Brenthurst Foundation, South Africa
Karin Von Hippel, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, London
Guntram Wolff, Bruegel, Belgium

(Here is the text in full: https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/le-epidemie-come-la-poverta-non-restano-casa-25620?fbclid=IwAR2xtfud63bq4NCCOt1RMEbfzEcx7hFxSkS7vLhD6GtcXT8qE71Jn-hKriY