February 23, 2021 | The Wall Street Journal

The World Health Organization Must Be Made to Change

The world failed to reform the WHO after SARS. Repeating that mistake would be diplomatic malpractice.
February 23, 2021 | The Wall Street Journal

The World Health Organization Must Be Made to Change

The world failed to reform the WHO after SARS. Repeating that mistake would be diplomatic malpractice.

Regarding your editorial “Who Are the Covid Investigators?” (Feb. 15): Covid-19 has exposed major deficiencies throughout the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the dangers of leaving China’s U.N. activism unchecked. The Covid-19 response also shares many parallels with SARS, including unexplained WHO delays in declaring both outbreaks; China’s refusal to provide accurate, timely data; and Beijing’s reliance on misinformation to deflect culpability. Amplifying these challenges are structural, governance and prioritization challenges throughout the WHO’s bureaucracy.

These issues are certain to persist unless the Biden administration gets serious about WHO reform, including:

Establishing global health sanctions: The WHO has no legal means by which to enforce the 2005 International Health Regulations and therefore cannot hold rogue countries accountable for their outbreak deceptions. This need not be the case, as other international organizations routinely levy sanctions and penalties for member noncompliance.

Narrowing the WHO’s mandate: The WHO’s constitution underscores its role in coordinating, collaborating and promoting global health cooperation—not in overseeing its execution. The U.S. should advocate for the WHO to outsource certain functions to other entities already leading the way in those fields, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Earmarking funds to force meaningful change: Simply put, money talks. WHO members can and should earmark contributions to establish greater control over the organization’s scope of work. The U.S., as its top funder, is uniquely positioned on that front

At its best, the WHO is a vehicle to promote improved global health standards. At its worst, it provides top cover to rogue regimes who disregard international norms. The world failed to reform the WHO after SARS. Repeating that mistake would be diplomatic malpractice.

Craig Singleton is a national security expert and former diplomat who currently serves as an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) for its China Program. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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Issues:

China COVID-19 International Organizations Sanctions and Illicit Finance