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The WHO's Penny-Wise and Health-Foolish Members

Too many of the World Health Organization’s 194 member states have long been indifferent to the need to strengthen the WHO or invest in health. It should not have been this way before COVID-19, and it should not continue being this way after.

LONDON/GENEVA – It beggars belief, but it’s true: In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the member states of the World Health Organization are still pondering whether, and by how much, they should increase their regular financial contributions to the organization, whose work continues to save lives within and beyond their borders.

While some may think the WHO is sufficiently financed, the opposite is true. The WHO’s current budget structure cripples and undermines its mandate to act as the world’s principal international public-health organization. Less than 20% of the WHO’s budget comes from regular fees (“assessed contributions”) paid by member states. The heavy reliance on voluntary contributions by member states and other funders severely hampers the WHO’s ability to work on its core activities, leaves it vulnerable to political pressures, and skews its priorities toward individual countries’ preferences.

The acute need to support the WHO’s critical work to overcome the pandemic crisis and achieve “Health for All” is self-evident, as is the organization’s indispensable leadership role in health globally. The WHO is the most important global coordination mechanism for preparing for and responding to pandemics and other health threats, providing a vital public good that serves all countries. It is therefore imperative that member states support the proposals from a WHO working group to reform the organization’s financing, including increasing assessed contributions as a share of its budget from 16% to 50%.

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