Most of these years WHO agendato be held in Geneva from 21 to 30 May, is expected to address WHO’s pandemic preparedness and budget. But there are some dark elements that anti-rights conservatives can cling to if they are to derail the discussion, and there is a growing appetite for such disruptions throughout UN agencies.
While officially, this year’s WHA should focus on a wide range of political issues Around the three pillars of WHO’s “Three Billion” strategy, which include emergencies and pandemics, non-communicable diseases and healthier populations, some hidden minefields scattered across the agenda risk creating unexpected flashpoints that could divert attention from substance of the meeting.
They include, again, sexual health language, but also concerns about the place of sovereign rights of states in the pandemic treaty, an initiative on a new WHO supply fund, as well as the perennial debates about Taiwan’s demand for be reinstated as a WHA observer and the state of health in the occupied Palestinian territories. What are the potential sticking points lurking in the shadows of a dry and detailed agenda? Here is a brief overview of the landscape:
Red flags against rights?
In recent years the World Health Assembly (WHA), an unexpected and prolonged standoff References to sexuality, sexual orientation and men having sex with men in a technical guideline on HIV and hepatitis prompted member states to hold an all-night session, delaying the closure of the entire event.
Last year, the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO), backed by leading North African countries, led the charge, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Nigeria all loudly condemning behavior they deemed antithetical to their cultures. This forced late-night talks and ultimately an unprecedented vote on vexatious leadership after several compromise clauses failed.
If Conservatives scan assembly documents looking for men who have sex with men, they are unlikely to find any references. But if they are intent on looking for polarizing needles in the haystack of the agenda, some may dispute the report on the global strategy for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health. This refers to the updated WHO family planning handbook, which contains references to post-abortion care and gender identity.
These are red flags for the right-wing coalition of UN member states, Group of Family Friendsfounded by Egypt, Belarus and Qatar to support the natural family which is becoming more explicit and more closely aligned with right-wing Christian groups in the United States through the annual World Congress of Families gatherings.
Multilateralism under fire
This year WHA takes place in an even tougher environment. Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine has polarized the international community, exacerbating the economic struggles sparked by three years of pandemic.
The multilateral system is under greater strain than ever since the creation of the United Nations, warned UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in An address to the Security Council last month.
We are witnessing a deepening climate crisis, growing inequality, a growing threat from terrorism, a global backlash against human rights and gender equality, and the unregulated development of dangerous technologies, he added.
All of these global challenges can only be solved through compliance with international law, adherence to global commitments and the adoption of appropriate multilateral governance frameworks.
Heightened US-China tensions could be inflamed by Taiwan’s large presence at this year’s WHA. THE US appeal to be reinstated as an observer was followed by a formal request from Belize to put this on the agenda.
Palestinian health, with an unprecedented increase in Israeli settler violence accounting for 25 percent of the victims, is also a geopolitical sticking point.
National sovereignty and response to the pandemic
Most of these years WHtitled “Health for All: 75 Years of Improving Public Health,” it will cover measures to counter the next pandemic, especially healthcare and universal health, and how to boost WHO finances.
The assembly will hear and comment on the progress made on two processes related to the pandemic: one to amend the International Health Regulations (IHR) to adapt it to the next pandemic and the other to draft a pandemic agreement. But both negotiations are ongoing with a deadline of the next few WHA years, so conflicts are unlikely to arise.
However, concerns about the sovereignty of member states are likely to be expressed, something Russia and China have emphasized in previous discussions.
Meanwhile, misinformation continues to circulate outside WHO from those who have opposed COVID-19 vaccines and lockdowns who say the pandemic deal will give WHO superpowers and could lead to international passports for the vaccines.
Anti-vaxxer and would-be US president Robert F Kennedy and his organization, Children’s Health Defense, are key sources of this misinformation and staged global protests aimed at urging countries to exit WHO on Saturday, May 20, the day before the opening of the WHO.
WHO funds in the spotlight
However, it is on the WHO budget increase that there is likely to be a lively discussion. Member states are expected to increase their assessed contributions and the assembly will discuss a proposal from the WHO Executive Board to a recovery fund.
Most Member States accept that WHO is underfunded and overly dependent on conditional donor grants, distorting the work of the body.
THE Proposed budget 2024/25 is based on the portion of member contributions collected by a sad 12% of the budget to 20%, which the WHO budget document on the budget describes as a historic step towards a more empowered and independent WHO.
During the Executive Committee discussion on increased contributions, the African region expressed an expectation that WHO will channel significantly more resources to country and regional offices, which WHO has sought to do and reports that the allocation per country increased from 39% in 2018/19 to 50% in the 2024/25 budget proposal.
The Member States’ Agile Working Group on Strengthening WHO’s Budgetary, Policy and Financial Governance has been working hard to find a way to stabilize WHO’s income, making it less dependent on donors and also more efficient.
He floated the idea of raising member state taxes and suggested a replenishment fund to solicit voluntary contributions from member states and donors to WHO which the organization has the flexibility to allocate where it sees the need, rather than be tied to a particular program.
Ahead of the executive committee meeting, WHO’s Programme, Budget and Administration Committee (PBAC) recognized WHO needs funding that is more flexible, predictable and sustainable and saw a replenishment mechanism as providing a possible solution, particularly for chronically underfunded areas of the organization’s program budget.
The Global Fund and Gavi raise much of their revenue from refueling campaigns, and by launching their own fund, WHO could reduce the pot for them. However, the World Bank also raises funds this way and there is general agreement that WHO needs access to flexible funding.
Meanwhile, a charming recent analysis of all WHO resolutions between 1948 and 2021 was recently published in the BMJ.
Notes: While WHO has been criticized for its isolated approach to addressing global health issues, the analysis suggests that this approach is not the collective will of WHO but may relate to how WHO has always been more funded through voluntary contributions to specific programmes.
Whatever decision is made, the attention of the international global health sector will be in Geneva over the next 10 days.
Image credits: German UN mission in Geneva .
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