Seldom has WHO been forced to take such a decisive political stand, during its existence for three-quarters of a century. It may have now set a precedent that will be difficult to walk away from, in the future.
This week will likely be seen as a watershed moment for WHO, when scores of member states pushed through a politically significant resolution, albeit, one that may be limited in practical terms, condemning “in the strongest terms Russian Federation’s military aggression against Ukraine, including attacks on health care facilities documented via the WHO’s Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care (SSA)”.
The 75th World Health Assembly became a melting pot for geopolitics, global health security, wars and health emergencies. Sparks flew and brought countries together, even as diplomats clashed on process and meaning across many discussions.
As the foundations are being laid for a new architecture for global health, WHO’s role is being re-cast in definitive terms, one where governing, coordinating and responding to health emergencies could overshadow its larger role in international health policy-making. The on-going World Health Assembly that drew delegates from the world over, in the first in-person meeting in over two years, provides indications on the current and future role of WHO.
In a competing agenda with scores of items, discussions on emergencies towered head and shoulders, over other priorities. In the first few days of this Assembly, member states re-elected DG Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, committed in principle to pay more to WHO, took a decisive stand against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, adopted a resolution on clinical trials, and discussed WHO’s role in the global health architecture, among many others matters of deliberation.
The US might manage to claw out a hard-won resolution, despite initial reservations by some member states including Iran and the African Union. Countries will now formally set in motion a process of amending the International Health Regulations. But expect opposition and an articulation of region-specific priorities on these issues in the coming weeks and months ahead.
Our edition today tries to capture and understand the significance of these decisions.
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