WHO is the United Nations agency that connects nations, partners and people to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable – so everyone, everywhere can attain the highest level of health.
World Health Assembly (WHA) is WHO’s decision-making body. It is held yearly at the HQ of WHO, i.e., Geneva, Switzerland. Amongst its functions specified in the WHO Constitution, the Health Assembly has the authority to determine the WHO’s policies, appoint its Director-General (DG), approve its budget, and adopt documents that are legally binding vis-à-vis WHO Members. In addition, the Health Assembly is the organ that most often interacts with and reports to UN principal organs and other health actors. The Health Assembly comprises delegates representing each WHO Member, and each Member has one vote. Voting rules depend on the type of decision: decisions on important questions are made by a two-thirds majority of Members present and voting decisions on other questions are made by a majority of Members present and voting.
Also, World Health Organization member states have agreed to pursue a legally binding pandemic instrument that will contain “both legally binding as well as non-legally binding elements.
WHO played a critically important, though imperfect, role in responding to the initial outbreak of COVID-19.
However, the agency came under fire for issuing contradictory statements on precautionary health topics, such as “human-to-human transmissibility” and “asymptomatic spread.” WHO also arguably erred in choosing to delay formal declaration of a global public health emergency. Also, The International Health Regulations (IHR), adopted by WHO member states, authorize WHO to collect disease related information for other sources, seek verification from governments about such information. WHO failed to act on information it had from other sources. It also failed to share that information with other countries. In fact, WHO embraced “softer” forms of diplomacy as a more viable means of extracting vital information from national governments around the globe.
For all of its institutional successes and shortfalls, WHO nonetheless continues to contribute powerfully and positively to the pandemic response effort. In sum, even though WHO’s response to the pandemic has fallen short of perfection, the agency has at all times played a necessary and vital role in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forthcoming global health governance reforms should aim to improve and enhance prevention, preparedness, and response in the event of a wide-range of health emergencies that may arise in the future (e.g., diseases, climate change repercussions, bio-threats, etc.). WHO actions, guidelines, and health policies should aim at enhancing the positive legacies of the fight against COVID-19.