Exclusive: The US opposes its desire to strengthen the World Health Organization

Exclusive: The US opposes its desire to strengthen the World Health Organization ...

BRUSSELS, January 21 - The United States, the World Health Organization's top donor, is refusing to make the agency more independent, according to four officials involved in the discussions, citing 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, made by the WHO's working group on sustainable financing, would increase each member state's standing annual contribution.

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

But the US government is opposed to the reform because it has concerns about the WHO's ability to confront future threats, including from China, according to US officials.

Instead, the government is urging for the creation of a separate foundation, directly controlled by donors, which would fund health interventions and prevention.

The opposition was confirmed by four European leaders involved in the discussions, who refused to be named because they were not allowed to speak to the media. The US government had no immediate comment.

The proposed proposal suggests that state's mandatory contributions to the agency increase gradually from 2024 so that the agency would account for half the agency's $2 billion core budget by 2028, according to the report.

The WHO's core budget is aimed at reducing pandemics and strengthening healthcare systems across the world. It also raises an additional $1 billion per year to address specific global challenges such as tropical diseases and influenza.

The fact that the WHO is currently dependent on voluntary funding from member states and charitable organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation encourages people to focus on the goals set by the funders, making it less able to criticize members when things go wrong.

A panel on pandemics that was appointed to advise on the WHO's reform had requested a significant increase in mandatory fees, reaching 75 percent of the core budget, putting the current system at jeopardy.

SCEPTICISM IN REAL TIME

The WHO itself responds to a question by saying that "only flexible and predictable funds can enable the WHO to fully meet the Member States' objectives."

Three European officials say senior European Union donors, including Germany, are backing the plan.

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

The WHO has confirmed that there is currently no consensus among member states, and said negotiations 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 enquiring about empowering, rather than weakening, multilateral organizations, including the World Health Organization.

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

For a while, Washington has been criticizing the WHO.

Donald Trump, the former president of China, has withdrawn the United States from the WHO after accusing it of defending China's initial delays in sharing information when COVID-19 came to light in 2019.

The Biden administration became relegated soon after his arrival, but officials told Reuters that it is a need for substantial reforms, and that it must be accountable for its governance, structure, and capability to face rising threats, not least from China.

A European official said other major countries, including Japan and Brazil, were also hesitant about the published WHO proposal.

Two European officials claimed China had not yet made the decision, whereas a third official listed Beijing among the critics of the proposal.

The governments of Japan, China, and Brazil have no immediate comment.

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