There is a saying: ‘Don’t point the finger at someone else unless you’re sure your hands are clean.’ This should apply to the World Health Organisation. The WHO, without addressing its failures, weaknesses and vulnerabilities, wants to become a supra-national body, lording over countries through establishing a World Health Council. The idea proposed by Tedros is based on the narrative that national governments have not responded enough to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite advice by the WHO.
The WHO wants more power. It wants the power to direct countries when it feels it is needed. It also wants to initiate activities, within these countries, to prevent a pandemic, enable preparations whenever a pandemic happens, and to push for vaccines and vaccine-based treatments. It wants to radically reorient health systems in countries. It wants to establish a global architecture through changes in governance and financing and ultimately wants to establish itself as a leading health authority. This begs the question, “who is the WHO is competing with?”
The WHO wants more power to enforce vaccine-centric responses. These actions include testing, contact-tracing, isolation, quarantine, masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and “effective communication” with the public.
The WHO wants more power to achieve vaccine equality. It wants to address vaccine inequity. It is concerned about vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy. It is not concerned about vaccine profits and vaccine IPRs, which have a fundamental role in inequity and lack of access.
The WHO wants more power to enforce vaccine preparedness. It wants to increase manufacturing capacity of mRNA and other vaccines urgently in Africa, Latin America and other low- and middle-income regions. It believes that since vaccine manufacturing is highly specialized and difficult, boosting production takes time, therefore it wants to begin now. It expects to foster agreements on voluntary licensing and technology transfer.
The WHO is not talking about non-pharmaceutical public health measures. Given its work and special programmes, the WHO can be rechristened asthe WHO for Vaccines. The WHO gets advice from a Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) on overall global policies and strategies, ranging from vaccines and technology, research and development, to delivery of immunization and its linkages with other health interventions1. The immunity of the human body can be built through food and water, and not necessarily through vaccines, which in any case are not proven to immunize.
WHO Work Review
The WHO worked on several diseases in the past 10 years, incluing several diseases, that have spread internationally. They include SARS, Ebola, H3N2, H1N1, swine flu and many other ‘viral’ diseases. There is not much information about its work on hunger-induced health outcomes, lifestyle diseases, non-communicable diseases and a whole range of other causes of ill-health like food contamination, air and water pollution. Responses from the WHO, as a global health organization, have always been predictably slow, low and non-targeted. It has never before gone into the basic causes that are leading to such disease outbreaks.
Since 2009, at least 11 high-level panels and commissions have made specific recommendations in 16 reports to improve global pandemic preparedness. Many concluded that the World Health Organization needed to strengthen its role as the leading and coordinating organization in the field of health, focusing on its normative work, while receiving more secure funding.
Reviews also suggested improvements in the implementation of the IHR (2005). Some of the reviews have resulted in specific action, including the establishment of the new WHO Health Emergencies Programme in 20162. It appears that the recommendations have not been able to influence the WHO work programme.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness & Response, in its report titled: “COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic,” said:
‘Although public health officials, infectious disease experts, and previous international commissions and reviews had warned of potential pandemics and urged robust preparations since the first outbreak of SARS, COVID-19 still took large parts of the world by surprise…. It is clear to the Panel that the world was not prepared and had ignored warnings which resulted in a massive failure: an outbreak of SARS-COV-2 became a devastating pandemic.’
The WHO had clearly ignored warnings, prior to December, 2020, and even as the crisis was building up in Wuhan (China). The WHO is now telling us that International Health Regulations amended in 2005, enforced since 2007, have ‘tied’ the hands of Director General of the WHO.
International Health Regulations
The purpose of these International Health Regulations (IHR) is to prevent, protect against, control, and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease in ways that are restricted to public health risks and that avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. The WHO most probably now wants this section, ‘unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade’, to be removed. Even if one agrees on the seriousness of an impending pandemic, giving overarching powers to the WHO without proper procedure and consultations is tantamount to creating a global dictatorship which overrides national sovereignty.
The World Health Assembly, of the WHO, amended the IHR in 2005, allowing the Director General, an individual, to determine a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and issue recommendations. Between 2007 and 2020, 6 events were declared PHEIC: the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, Ebola (West African outbreak 2013-2015, outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo 2018-2020), poliomyelitis (2014 to present), Zika (2016) and COVID-19 (2020 to present)3. Yet, the Independent Panel says current institutions, public and private, failed to protect people from COVID-19. The same panel has recommended a fundamental transformation of WHO.
Presently, the WHO is attempting to amend the IHR of 2005. Out of 194 Member States, only 16 Member States (8.2 Percent), some on behalf of regional groups, submitted more than 300 proposed amendments. These amendments covered 33 of the 66 articles of the IHR, and 5 of its 9 annexes. In addition, 6 new articles and 2 new annexes were proposed. IHR amendments are not an agenda for other 178 countries.
Global Pandemic Treaty
A Special session of World Health Assembly (29 November 2021 – 1 December 2021) was organized to sketch out a new world order to handle future health crises. Tedros (Director General of the WHO) said:
‘We don’t have rules of the game. To manage shared problems, like pandemics, you need laws and rules that bring obligations to countries. That’s what we miss. And I hope countries will agree to a binding pact so that pandemics can be managed better’
A draft of the World Pandemic Treaty was issued on 1st February, 2023. This draft treaty4, dubbed as Zero draft of the WHO CA+, has 38 articles and is a 32-page long document. This Zero draft proposes mechanisms to prevent and prepare for future pandemics, while ensuring a better coordinated response and equal access to vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics. Exposing the vaccine-centric approach, one of main focuses of the Zero Draft, is a more equitable distribution of pandemic-related products such as vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. This is in fact the One Health approach.
It ignores the core principles of liberal thought and the principles of democratic governance, and wants to achieve compliance over the same processes of COVID-19 that have led to a catastrophic failure in protecting the health of people and securing the rights of individuals to determine their medical care. The treaty risks superseding parliamentary democracy, public health laws and human rights within 194 countries. Unelected technocrats should never decide sovereign public health policy5. A global pandemic treaty is being formulated primarily to unite any national response at the global level, encapsulated by the slogan, ‘One Health, One World.’ The World Economic Forum, has been advocating for such unified response at Davos.
Captive to private interests
The WHO is also captive to private funding agencies, including private think tanks, global philanthropies and profit-chasing pharma companies. Given its compromised position, giving sweeping powers to override national governments in the name of a pandemic could be disastrous for global peace and prosperity in general, and for ordinary people in particular. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed 12.07 percent of the funds to WHO in 2022-23, while the GAVI alliance contributed 7.73 percent. In 2022-23, specified voluntary contributions are 71.69 percent. Adding thematic voluntary contributions, of 6.86 percent, to this makes a total of 78.55 percent. The dominance of these so-called voluntary contributions, which set the agenda for which activities the WHO undertakes, indicate clearly it is an organization that works on contracts. Therein lies its vulnerability. Its work programme funds6 and procedures clearly reveal that the WHO cannot shape up to be a universal public health organization shorn of politics and interests-backed agendas.
The percentage of the WHO budget going towards its 9,000 strong staff, is 49% in the draft program budget for 2024-25. ‘The World Health Organization (WHO) is now 80% financed by private donors and 20% by Member State contributions. The Bill Gates Foundation, one of the largest supporters of genetically-modified organisms in the world, is now one of its main contributors, second in order of importance to the USA, which has just announced that it is temporarily halting its contributions. However, according to the latest published summary report, eight of the 15 scientific members of the WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts have declared, as they are obliged to do by law, an affiliation with the Gates Foundation or other giants of the pharmaceutical sector. Since the swine flu epidemic in 2009, commentators of all persuasions have wondered how influential lobbyists for ‘Big Pharma’ and private foundations may be in the WHO’s decision-making and in determining its policy.’7 This was the subject of questions raised in the EU Parliament WHEN by WHOM ?
A new proposal dated 11th May, 2023, to be discussed at the 66th World Health Assembly, includes new methodologies and justification for accessing funds from non-State actors such as BMGF. Through this, the WHO wants to discourage small, highly-earmarked donations, and enhance the flexibility of all contributions. However, there is no indication in this proposal that this flexibility is going to impact the direction of the activities to be undertaken as part of the General Programme of Work. In fact, the proposal called the “WHO replenishment mechanism” will be based on 6 principles, which are aligned with the objectives set out in the IHR amendment document. Thus, the WHO programme of work would continue on the same path of vaccines, and textbook WHO actions. Yet, the WHO replenishment mechanism proposal promises that the mechanism of replenishment will ensure financial independence and flexibility. It appears more of a promise, than a tangible programme of independence from private contributors and major financial contributors such as the USA, EU and China.
The ultimate purpose of the transformation of the WHO either through IHR amendments or a global pandemic treaty, is to facilitate timely evidence-based action, to contain or limit the public health and societal impacts of emerging and re-emerging disease risks while preventing unwarranted travel and trade restrictions. People are no doubt expecting a new system that is coordinated, connected, fast-moving, accountable, just, and equitable, not a global monopolistic health authority that wants to override national governments, undermine democratic principles of participation and the people’s mandate. The WHO should catalyse, not dictate, a complete pandemic preparedness and response system at the national level, on which citizens can rely to keep them safe and healthy. By transforming itself into science-based knowledge authority on health, the WHO has the potential to be be an arbiter between countries.
But the problem is the WHO wants power. Through the global pandemic treaty, the WHO is pushing for a unified, one health approach to future pandemics and the kind of therapeutics which are a replica of those used during the COVID-19 catastrophe, albeit raised to a global scale, with a more structured approach. Such a structured, concerted approach led by the WHO, which is not yet independent from the shackles of private foundations and private health care companies, backed by governments of all hues, will be a formidable weapon to kill people’s movements for justice, equity, sovereignty, diversity and genuine sustainability. It is likely to be a potent stream to continue to introduce gene-edited technologies in the health and food sectors. Moreover the WHO are expected endorse digital technologies, which infringe on individual rights and represent a covert tool to smother fundamental human rights, namely the rights to liberty and to life. Alternative medical care systems, of indigenous and traditional societies origins, will be suppressed by this zero draft global pandemic treaty, in it’s monomaniacal vaccine focused approach to Covid 19 and future pandemics, thanks to the vested interests driving it.
3 Wilder-Smith A, Osman S. Public health emergencies of international concern: a historic overview. J Travel Med. 2020 Dec 23;27(8):taaa227. doi: 10.1093/jtm/taaa227. PMID: 33284964; PMCID: PMC7798963.