It’s time to treat the disease in global health governance


The ongoing 76th World Health Assembly has a catchy theme, “WHO at 75: Saving Lives, Promoting Health for All.” Yet the annual meeting of the World Health Organization’s highest decision-making body in Geneva, Switzerland, this year is less likely to stand out as a defining moment in the WHO’s history.

With the world still reeling from the effects of COVID-19, the first fully in-person World Health Assembly is expected to shape global public health governance after the pandemic. The 194 member countries of the WHO are set to negotiate a global agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response to better protect humanity from public health emergencies in the future.

In retrospect, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc around the world, exposing the world’s nonchalant public health governance system. The lack of a coherent and coordinated emergency response to the coronavirus has exposed the international community’s vulnerability to the deadly contagion. Even after more than three years of fighting COVID-19, millions of people in developing countries in the South are still unvaccinated.

In May 2021, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lamented that the world was in a state of “vaccine apartheid”, with the least developed and developing countries which make up half of the world’s population not receiving than 17% of vaccine doses.

Even COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the COVID-19 Tools Access Accelerator under the auspices of the WHO, had only sent 68 million doses of vaccines to the developing world, well below its target of 2 billion doses planned for 2021. Despite all this, the United States would have accumulated vaccines more than twice the size of its population. But much to our dismay, the WHA has remained deafeningly silent on the selfish act of the United States, causing many to lose faith in the WHO’s public health governance system.

However, no country seems bold enough to ask what happened to the vaccine promises that the big powers had made to countries in the South amid the loss of confidence in the WHO.

Meanwhile, the White House’s commitment to provide 500 million Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries around the world, in addition to an earlier commitment of 600 million doses, is still fresh in the news. spirit of the international community. Needless to say, the promise remains open. Washington owes the world a tracking record of vaccine distribution. Perhaps prompted by the failure of advanced countries, particularly the United States, to deliver on their commitment to the global fight against the pandemic, UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima once said that ” empty promises will not save the world from COVID-19.” Despite their lofty claims, G7 countries have only delivered 13% of the billion vaccine doses promised in September 2021.

From this perspective, the failure of the WHO to uphold its principle and improve global governance of public health is undoubtedly one of the biggest problems facing the global health body. Looking back, when big pharma was allowed to force vulnerable countries, the ambitious dream of having 70% of nation states, large and small, vaccinated before the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2022 is has become just that, unrealistic rhetoric. Yet Big Pharma’s unscrupulous actions were justified and multinational pharmaceutical companies were allowed to walk away unscathed in the name of the free market, albeit at the expense of millions of lives.

China, on the other hand, offered the COVID-19 vaccines it developed as public goods to the international community. Initially, it shipped 265 million doses of the vaccine to countries around the world. And his pledge to contribute $3 billion to support pandemic response and socio-economic recovery in the Global South was timely and commendable. So was his willingness to share the raw materials and technology needed to produce the vaccines.

All this, however, has not spared Beijing from being targeted, as new calls to trace the origin of the new coronavirus have been repeatedly made at the request of Washington. Geopolitical interests were allowed to trump facts, with the US intelligence apparatus deployed to establish Beijing’s culpability within 90 days.

The US-led West has been pushing relentlessly for a new round of “origin-finding surveys.” Slanders have been thrown at China with the authenticity and transparency of the original WHO-led research study in China questioned. Unsurprisingly, more than 70 countries opposed Western demands that were ostensibly aimed at politicizing origin research work, which is seen as crucial to better preparing the world to deal with health emergencies in times to come.

What remains baffling is that despite the hypothesis of a laboratory leak deemed “extremely unlikely” by the first joint WHO-China origins research team, some Western countries, at the request of the United States, remain reluctant to demand a new investigation. assuming.

More disconcertingly, the WHO, under pressure from the US-led West, flip-flopped on the issue, casting doubt on the results of its own study conducted in collaboration with China. In doing so, however, the WHO could no longer hide that the whole episode was driven by a geopolitical agenda simply to achieve the narrow goals of the few instead of seeking scientific truth in the interest of global public health.

While the WHA owes the international community an explanation for this episode, what matters most to humanity is whether we are prepared for another pandemic with a coordinated emergency response. Resources for public health governance must be channeled wisely to better protect humanity from the onslaught of any future epidemics.

And this can only be achieved with strong public health governance within the WHO, completely independent of political interference.

The author is Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Belt and Road Initiative Caucus, Malaysia.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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It’s time to treat the disease in global health governance

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