Amid pandemic onslaught, US opposes plans to beef up World Health Organization

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The United States, the World Health Organization’s top donor, is resisting proposals to make the agency more independent, four officials involved in the talks have said, raising doubts about the organization’s long-term support. Biden administration at the United Nations agency.

The proposal, made by the WHO’s Task Force on Sustainable Financing, would increase each member state’s permanent annual contribution, according to a WHO document posted online and dated January 4.

The plan is part of a wider reform process galvanized by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the limits of the WHO’s power to intervene early in a crisis.

But the US government opposes the reform because it worries about the WHO’s ability to deal with future threats, including from China, US officials told Reuters.

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

Four European officials involved in the talks, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed the American opposition. The US government had no immediate comment.

The published proposal calls for member states‘ assessed contributions to increase gradually from 2024 so that they represent half of the agency’s $2 billion base budget by 2028, up from less than 20% currently, says the document.

WHO’s core budget aims to fight pandemics and strengthen health systems around the world. It also raises about an additional $1 billion annually to address specific global challenges such as tropical diseases and influenza.

Proponents say the current reliance on voluntary funding from member states and charities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation forces the WHO to focus on priorities set by donors and makes it less adept at criticizing members when things go wrong.

An independent pandemic group which was appointed to advise on WHO reform had called for a much bigger increase in compulsory fees, to 75% of the core budget, deeming the current system “a major risk for integrity and independence” of the WHO.

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LONG-STANDING SKEPTICISM

The WHO itself responded to a question by saying that “only flexible and predictable funds can allow the WHO to fully implement the priorities of Member States”.

Major European Union donors, including Germany, support the plan, along with most African, South Asian, South American and Arab countries, three of the European officials said.

The proposal is due to be discussed at the WHO executive board meeting next week, but the divisions mean no agreement is expected, three of the officials said.

The WHO confirmed that there was currently no consensus among member states and said talks were likely to continue until May’s annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the main decision-making body of the the agency.

European donors, in particular, favor empowering rather than weakening multilateral organizations, including the WHO.

A European official said the US plan “causes skepticism in many countries”, and said the creation of a new structure controlled by donors, rather than the WHO, would weaken the agency’s ability to fight against future pandemics.

Washington has been criticizing the WHO for some time.

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Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the WHO after accusing it of defending China’s initial delays in sharing information when Covid-19 emerged there in 2019.

The Biden administration joined soon after taking office, but officials told Reuters they believe the WHO needs significant reform and raised concerns about its governance, structure and its ability to deal with growing threats, particularly from China.

One of the European officials said other major countries, including Japan and Brazil, were also hesitant about the published WHO proposal.

Two of the European officials said China had yet to clarify its position, while a third official cited Beijing among critics of the proposal.

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

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