Exclusive: The US is opposed to plans to strengthen the World Health Organization

Exclusive: The US is opposed to plans to strengthen the World Health Organization ...

BRUSSELS, Jan 21 - The United States, the World Health Organization's leading source, is resisting any ideas to make the agency more independent, according to four members of the group, putting concerns about the Biden administration's long-term support for the United Nations.

According to a WHO document published online and dated January 4, the proposal would increase each member state's permanent annual contribution.

The plan is part of a wider reform process driven by the COVID-19 epidemic, which has highlighted the limitations of the WHO's ability to intervene early in a crisis.

According to US officials, the US is opposing the change because it concerns about the WHO's ability to cope with future threats.

Instead, it is pushing for the creation of a separate fund, directly controlled by donors, that would finance prevention and control of health emergencies.

Four European officials who were involved in the discussions, who refused to be named because they were not authorised to speak with the media, confirmed the opposition. The US government had no immediate comment.

The published proposal proposes that state's mandatory contributions to the agency increase gradually from 2024 so that they could generate half the agency's $2 billion core budget by 2028, according to the document.

The WHO's core budget is designed to combat pandemics and strengthen healthcare systems across the world. It also raises an additional $1 billion each year to address specific global challenges such as tropical diseases and influenza.

Despite the reliance on voluntary funding from member states and charities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, supporters say the WHO is focusing on the goals established by the funders and is less able to criticize members when things go wrong.

A panel on pandemics that was appointed to provide advice on the WHO's reform had demanded a much higher increase in mandatory fees, reaching 75 percent of the core budget, and considers the current system a "terrible challenge to the integrity and independence" of the WHO.

SCEPTICISM IS LONG-STANDING

The WHO itself responded to a query by saying that only flexible and predictable funds can enable the WHO to fully implement the priorities of the Member States.

Three European officials said senior European Union donors support the plan, including Germany.

The proposal will be discussed at the WHO's executive board meeting next week, although the divisions mean that no agreement is expected, according to three officials.

The WHO confirmed there is currently no consensus among member states, and said discussions were likely to continue until the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the agency's top decision-making body in May.

Particularly European donors are favoring empowering, rather than weakening, multilateral organisations, including the WHO.

One European official said the US proposal "creates scepticism among many countries," and that the creation of a new structure that is controlled by donors rather than by the WHO, would impede the agency's ability to combat future epidemics.

The World Health Organization has been criticised for a while.

Donald Trump resigned the United States from the WHO after accusing China of defending China's initial delays in sharing information when COVID-19 was discovered in 2019.

The Biden administration was rejoined shortly after it was appointed, but officials told Reuters that it is important to implement significant reforms. They also raised concerns about its governance, structure, and capability to deal with rising threats, not least from China.

One of the European officials said other important countries, including Japan and Brazil, were also hesitant about the proposed WHO.

Two European officials said China had not yet expressed their position, while a third official included Beijing among the critics of the proposal.

The government of Japan, China, and Brazil have no immediate response.

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