Panafrican News Agency

UN: WHO proposes US$100 million in emergency funding, global health crisis workforce

New York, US (PANA) - The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan, on Monday proposed a new US$100 million emergency fund and a global health crisis workforce, as part of a reform package prompted by the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

She said: "I do not ever again want to see this organization faced with a situation it is not prepared, staffed, funded, or administratively set up to manage."

"The world was ill-prepared to respond to an outbreak that was so widespread, so severe, so sustained, and so complex," Dr. Chan told the 68th session of the World Health Assembly, the top decision-making body of the UN agency that opened on Monday in Geneva, Switzerland.

"WHO was overwhelmed, as were all other responders, and the demands on WHO were more than 10 times greater than ever experienced in its almost 70-year history," she said in statement released by the UN in New York.

She proposed making "fundamental changes" to enable the organization to deal with future heath emergencies like Ebola, which has claimed more than 11,000 lives.

Dr. Chan said she was establishing a global health emergency workforce, strengthening WHO’s core and surge capacity of trained emergency response staff, developing new business processes to facilitate a rapid and effective response, proposed options for a new US$100 million contingency fund and setting clear performance metrics for the programme, built on partnerships with other responders.

"The new programme is designed for speed, flexibility, and rapid impact, and it reports directly to me, and I am accountable to you. The programme will have performance benchmarks showing what must happen within 24, 48, and 72 hours, not months," the WHO chief said.

An independent panel tasked to assess WHO’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa last week in its first report, stated that WHO "does not have the operational capacity or culture to deliver a full emergency public health response", and urged investments by WHO member states to make it fit for purpose.

She said that, while WHO is responding to the devastating earthquakes in Nepal, where it is coordinating the work of more than 150 humanitarian organizations and 130 self-sufficient foreign medical teams, the biggest emergency response is concentrated in West Africa to deal with the Ebola virus.

On a positive note on the Ebola front, she noted that, "many appreciated the way WHO moved to unite scientists, the R&D (research and development) community, and the pharmaceutical industry to develop vaccines, medicines, therapies, and rapid diagnostic tests with record-breaking speed".

Looking ahead, Dr. Chan addressed ways global health has been impacted by a world that has changed dramatically since the start of this century, saying that, "this is a unique time in history where economic progress is actually increasing threats to health instead of reducing them".

The WHO chief noted that, "the world population has got bigger, more urban, and a lot older, adding dementia to the list of top priorities, and how unfairness and social injustice were documented in statistics showing the number of forced teenage marriages, the births that never got registered, the estimated 212 million children who are stunted or wasted, and the millions of people driven below the poverty line by the costs of health care they could not live without".

"Hunger persisted, but the world as a whole got fat, and non-communicable diseases overtook infectious diseases as the principal driver of global mortality,"she said.

She reminded the Assembly how "more and more first- and second-line anti-microbials failed, raising the spectre of a post-antibiotic era in which common infections will once again kill".

Dr. Chan also listed a number of areas where global health gains have been made.

Those ranged from the fact that maternal and childhood deaths are falling faster than ever before, with some of the fastest drops recorded in sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS reached a tipping point, when the number of people newly receiving anti-retroviral therapy surpassed the number of new infections.

Others are a 47 per cent reduction in mortality in malaria, 37 million lives saved by effective treatment of tuberculosis and the closeness to polio eradication.

The World Health Assembly, which meets every May, is attended by all 194 WHO member states, and determines the policies of the UN health agency, supervises financial policies, and reviews and approves the proposed programme budget.
-0- PANA AA/MA 18May2015