Prime Minister Narendra Modi was only reflecting a felt need when he called for reforming and strengthening the World Health Organisation (WHO) to build a “more resilient global health security architecture”. The Prime Minister, speaking at the second global virtual summit on Covid-19 hosted by US President Joe Biden, also called for streamlining the WHO’s approval process for vaccines and therapeutics to keep supply chains stable and predictable.
There have been calls for the reform of the healthcare arm of the United Nations for quite some time which had become more audible after the pandemic Covid-19 hit the world with unprecedented virility. In fact, a panel the WHO appointed to review its own functioning during the pandemic had last year come out with a report that contained stinging criticism of the body. It noted that the combined response of the WHO and the national governments to the pandemic has been a toxic cocktail. It was critical of the world body’s delay in declaring the pandemic a global emergency. There were many early steps that could have prevented the spread of the virus, but the WHO failed to advise governments correctly.
As a UN body functioning in the field of health science, the WHO’s primary responsibility is to provide a platform for the best minds and processes to identify threats to health and then goad the global scientific community to come up with solutions to them. Given the nature and the mandate, the WHO has only one client to address: the human population and only one tool to do so, science. Politics is not an area which it should find itself in, but unfortunately, a host of nations now believes that the world body’s approach to the pandemic has been less than neutral.
The pandemic has proven the point that the world has to do a lot more to face any eventuality. The failure of healthcare infrastructures to respond to the demands of the pandemic was felt not only in poor nations; but the rich ones also struggled, resulting in the deaths of thousands of their citizens. A responsive global body propelled by the power of science, and science alone, will be able to effectively lead the nations to prevent its recurrence.
To be fair to the WHO, world bodies, including the UN, do not inspire confidence in the people whom they are supposed to be serving. The UN has often been reduced to a rubber stamp of the permanent five with veto power which undermines the very idea of a democratic institution. There were instances even in this century when big powers used the UN or ignored it, as they deemed fit, while pursuing their own agendas.
There may be critics who interject that the Government of India suddenly felt the need to lobby to reform WHO only when the latter came up with a figure of Covid deaths which was almost 10 times the official toll. While it remains a fact that there needs to be a transparent mechanism and process that can come up with the true figures, to link it to the call for reforms would be unfair. Truly, it is the need of the hour....