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Scholars call on international community to strengthen WHO

Posted on 9 January 2015

A University of York scholar is among nearly 100 academics who have warned against ‘dismantling’ the World Health Organization (WHO) because of its handling of the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

World Health Organisation (WHO)

Dr Joao Nunes, of the University’s Department of Politics, is one of the signatories from across the world to a letter published in the latest issue of The Lancet which calls on WHO to show “strong leadership and coordination in responding to global health challenges”.

It calls for all member states of WHO to strengthen global outbreak alert and response through sustainable investment in the WHO, its departments and personnel.

The letter says that acknowledged mistakes by WHO in its handling of the Ebola crisis, might be used as a pretext to divert funding to other voluntary institutions. It warns that a proposal to establish a new UN ‘first responder’ agency to provide emergency operational assistance in humanitarian crises is fraught with difficulties.

The letter says: “While an enhanced rapid response would be beneficial, a new agency would be subject to the same vagaries of institutional funding and member state interests in delivering its mandate.

“The resources to create an entirely new agency would therefore be better served by strengthening the WHO’s emergency response division rather than duplicating existing functions.”

The letter states that an independent investigation into WHO’s handling of the Ebola outbreak is warranted with a particular focus on the impact of funding cuts on its ability to respond. But it insists that the organisation remains a “fundamental element of global health governance, and provides an indispensable service as the lead technical agency in global health.”

The signatories call on member states and the international community to give WHO the resources it needs to serve its members and the populations they represent.

Dr Nunes said: “This is a crucial moment for the WHO. In the wake of the Ebola crisis many questions are being asked about the organization’s ability and purpose. There is a risk that this crisis will be used to further erode the funding and possibly the mandate of this important institution. The WHO remains the world’s best instrument for responding in a technically-informed and representative way to global health challenges.”

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