WHO Strengthens Global Role

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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News

GENEVA (Worthy News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) appeared to have strengthened its global role after member states agreed on an initial U.S.-led push to reform the rules around disease outbreaks.

Amendments to the rules, known as the International Health Regulations (IHR), were adopted after early opposition from Africa and others was overcome this week, U.N. sources confirmed.

Worthy News established earlier that the U.S. amendments include deleting a critical restriction in the Regulations: “WHO shall consult with and attempt to obtain verification from the State Party in whose territory the event is allegedly occurring….”

Supporters of the amendments have denied claims that this means handing over control of the health care system and sovereignty of the U.S. and other states to the WHO.

The IHR agreement does not allow “the WHO to dictate national health care policy or create binding law in the U.S. or any nation,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law.

Not everyone was initially convinced. The “African region shares the view that the process should not be fast-tracked…,” Moses Keetile, deputy permanent secretary in Botswana’s health ministry, told the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s legislative body.

Diplomats said that the African objections seemed to be a strategy to seek concessions on vaccine and drug-sharing from wealthier countries who were seen to be “hoarding supplies” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was unclear what prompted Africa’s eventual decision to accept changes to the IHR, a legally binding agreement between 196 countries to detect and report public health events.

The negotiations will run alongside talks on a potential pandemic treaty, raising concerns over duplication. “Several developing countries have said that the WHO has too many platforms for negotiation, and it is simply not manageable,” said Nithin Ramakrishnan, consultant for the Third World Network.

Since the U.S. IHR proposal, Russia also submitted draft revisions, diplomats say. Yet, Moscow seemed isolated after the WHO Assembly condemned Russian military strikes on health facilities in Ukraine, where the Russian invasion is ongoing.

While IHR reforms will still need time to be implemented, the Biden administration drafted amendments that led to calls for legislative changes in the U.S. Senate to limit the WHO’s power.

One called the ‘No WHO Pandemic Preparedness Treaty Without Senate Approval Act’ has 15 co-sponsors. It was introduced last week to the Senate by Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who said, “The sovereignty of the United States is not negotiable.”

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