World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a meeting of G20 leaders on Thursday that his organization must be given more money and power to combat pandemics.
He made this demand while criticizing U.S. plans to establish a “global health fund” independent of W.H.O. for pandemic response.
Tedros insisted the center of global “architecture” for pandemic response must be “a strong and sustainably financed W.H.O.” because his organization has a “unique mandate, unique technical expertise, and unique global legitimacy.”
“Any efforts to enhance the governance, systems, and financing of global health security can only succeed if they also enhance W.H.O.’s role,” he said.
During the same conference on Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asked the G20 to back a proposed $75 billion pandemic fund that would be hosted by the World Bank.
“While the human and economic trauma of the pandemic is fresh in our minds, we have a political window to act to address the deficiencies in our global health architecture. The cost of not doing so could be devastating,” Yellen said.
Tedros’ response asserted that W.H.O. must be the centerpiece of global pandemic “architecture” and implied the fund proposed by Yellen would siphon away funding and authority from W.H.O., although Yellen insisted that would not be the case.
Yellen said the fund would not become “a pool of money that sits idly waiting to respond to the next pandemic,” but would be used to fund research, reinforce national health care systems, and build new systems to detect and track disease outbreaks. She said low-income countries were especially needful of additional funding to build up their pandemic response capabilities.
World Bank Group President David Malpass told the G20 that his agency is already “working rapidly on a new financial intermediary fund” to finance “pandemic preparedness and response.”
Last week, W.H.O. demanded an additional $16 billion cash infusion from “wealthy countries” to finance vaccination programs, testing, and protective equipment for developing countries.
Tedros said this additional funding, which he described as “higher-income countries” paying their “fair share,” could “end Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] as a global health emergency this year.”
The clash between Yellen and Tedros is notable because the Biden administration is nominally more supportive of W.H.O. than the Trump administration, which withdrew the United States from W.H.O. in July 2020. Former President Donald Trump accused W.H.O. of helping China “cover up” the origins of Chinese coronavirus and said Beijing wielded undue influence over the organization even though it contributes less than 10 percent of the funding provided by the United States.
Trump was far from the only critic of W.H.O.’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. An independent international panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark excoriated W.H.O. in January 2021, charging the organization with poor preparation for the pandemic and a clumsy response due to calcified bureaucracy and antiquated procedures.
W.H.O. is currently grappling with serious allegations of racism and unethical behavior by some top officials. Last summer, the organization was rocked by a massive sexual abuse scandal surrounding its operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Tedros was criticized for his inadequate response to these scandals and stirred up further controversy last month by openly involving himself in the civil war in his native Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has long accused him of covertly supporting the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Marxist militia and political party that made him health minister of Ethiopia when it held national power.
Despite these criticisms and controversies, Tedros is essentially running unopposed for another five-year term as Director-General in May 2022. W.H.O. critics cite his all-but-guaranteed re-election as evidence the organization is impervious to reform or accountability.