How to Improve Global Health: Two Proposals for the WHO

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Thursday, February 1, 2018 4:30PM / Linda Dempsey 

Last week’s World Health Organization meetings highlighted its critical global mission “to build a better, healthier future for people all over the world.” Whether it’s combating HIV, eradicating smallpox or stopping the spread of tuberculosis, the WHO has worked hand-in-hand with private- and public-sector stakeholders to improve global health for nearly 70 years. Recent WHO actions, however, threaten this effective formula by shutting out key stakeholders and diverting the organization’s focus from evidence-based problem-solving to narrowly tailored ideology.

The WHO in Geneva had a golden opportunity to course correct during its Executive Board meeting, and to fulfill its Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s vision to “transform WHO into the Organization that the world needs it to be.” It could have shifted its agenda from confrontation back to collaboration, from narrow, top-down policies back to practical solutions.  Instead, its discussions showed a continued trajectory troubling to those who care about the organization and its mission.

The WHO has a long history of partnering with universities, non-profits and businesses to advance global health initiatives. Companies have been particularly active in such partnerships, such as the Global Collaboration for Development of Pesticides for Public Health and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

 But in 2016, the WHO adopted a new approach (known as FENSA) that effectively discourages partnering with private sector organizations. The stated reason: Private-sector organizations represent a unique “conflict of interest.” Numerous items on this year’s agenda singled out the private sector as the problem instead of an important part of the solution – and discussions showed a concerning disdain for private sector engagement and partnerships.

This anti-business approach is counterproductive. It restricts access to the very expertise and resources most needed to effectively fulfill the WHO’s core mission. This continued divisive approach is detrimental to global health and it must change. As the WHO moves beyond its Executive Board meeting, it should instead ensure that all initiatives welcome private sector participation in developing and implementing policy recommendations and programs. Strong government interventions against WHO recommendations to limit private sector engagement in the development of nutrition programs showed that its own members believe that all stakeholders are potential partners who can contribute to public health.

Last week’s meeting also failed to address another major issue: The secretariat’s troublesome, non-transparent approach in many policy issues. We all know global health issues are complex and multi-faceted, but recently, the WHO’s policy focus has been shrinking from broad and smart to narrow, ill-conceived and ideological.

First appeared on Morning Consult

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