The WHO started its virtual annual assembly meeting on Monday. The main aim will be to guarantee a joint fight against the coronavirus through a common resolution. However, a global cohesion under the WHO umbrella is currently missing.
Grading the WHO’s Coronavirus Response
The WHO has faced severe criticism just as much as praise over these previous months. It is a testimony, that there is, as so often, not one truth, not one opinion when the WHO’s management of the COVID-19 crisis is debated. Or as Chancellor Merkel stated: The WHO’s performance grades differ from country to country.
The most outspoken opponent of the World Health Organization has been US President Donald Trump. He publicly accused the WHO of ineptitude and of being in China’s pocket. According to Trump WHO had been wrong about the pandemic ab initio and was still wrong to this day: an unacceptable track record. So much so, that only on Monday evening, Trump threatened to withdraw the US from the WHO while again accusing the organisation of belonging to China. However, Trump’s harsh rhetoric is first and foremost an attempt to establish a scapegoat other than himself for the initially disastrous crisis management of the United States.
The WHO Needs More Money
While the WHO has made mistakes, it has also been chronically underfunded for years, with a pitiful budget of just under $2 billion. Moreover, the organisation is essentially a paper tiger. It has no power to enforce anything against a national government and is ultimately dependent on information countries provide voluntarily. The WHO can, therefore, only be as functional and apt as its member states.
China’s conduct highlights the latter. Beijing initially did not voluntarily provide any information about COVID-19. At the end of January, WHO General Secretary Tedros had thus to travel to Beijing in person, in an attempt to appease the communist leadership.
For the White House, this might amount to being in China’s pocket. For a realist, however, it is nothing but an attempt at diplomacy. Without the latter, China arguably would not have let WHO scientist in the country – just as other nation’s scientists were not permitted.
Unlike the United States, Germany continues to support WHO and provides money and backing now that the organisation, which is responsible, among other things, for the worldwide vaccination programs, is under fire from Trump. Germany’s Foreign Minister Maas makes it undiplomatically clear that in such a phase it is counterproductive to question WHO or to cut its funding. Nevertheless, his point of view is too one-sided, also.
Weaknesses Must be Addressed
The truth is that the WHO is not going through the pandemic without errors. Weaknesses due to the fact that one acted too reluctantly are evident. Even Chancellor Merkel, who remains in support of the WHO, admitted that there were “weaknesses” which needed to be “analysed”.
These weaknesses not only need to be analysed, however. They must also be eradicated. The latter starts with increased funding. Here, however, the real issues begin. In order for the WHO to become more apt, more rights and more power would be needed to provide the organisation with actual influence and global say. However, one can be sure that none of these will be granted to WHO. No state will succumb its sovereignty to a supranational organisation in the current climate.
Besides, the current situation does not call for reform. This would distract from the current focus, which is to get the vaccination programs going. After all, it is the WHO that will distribute the corona vaccine — if there is one — worldwide, as with the smallpox vaccination, which is probably the greatest WHO success story in its 72-year history.