The World Health Organization and the COVID-19 Pandemic
In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) faced the largest existential crisis since its founding in 1948. The directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system, WHO had been severely criticized for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic by several member countries – especially the U.S. The organization had been accused of being too China-centric, not doing enough to quickly obtain accurate information from China about the new airborne illness, failing to press China for the speedy admittance of a WHO team of international experts, and only declaring the spread of COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) at a time and in a manner that was deferential to the Chinese government. Dissatisfied with WHO’s actions, U.S. President Donald Trump decided in April 2020 to suspend funding to the international organization and, three months later, formally withdrew the U.S. from WHO.
Based entirely on public information, this case gives students an opportunity to reflect on WHO’s role in dealing with global health crises, why it was criticized during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether that criticism was warranted, and how the organization could be reformed to prepare for future PHEICs.
Analyze three key issues related to global health governance: