U.S. opposes WHO reform plan: officials

U.S. opposes WHO reform plan: officials

Four officials who are involved in the talks said that the Biden administration s long-term support for the UN agency is questioned by the fact that the United States is resisting proposals to make the agency more independent.

The proposal, made by the WHO's Working Group on Sustainable Fining, would increase the standing annual contribution of each member state, according to a document published online and dated Jan. 4.

The plan is part of a wider reform process that was launched in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, which highlighted the limitations of WHO's power to intervene early in a crisis.

The US government is opposing the reform because it has concerns about the WHO's ability to confront future threats, including from China, U.S. officials told Reuters.

It is pushing for the creation of a separate fund, directly controlled by donors, that would finance prevention and control health emergencies.

Four European officials involved in the talks, who were not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed that they were not authorized to speak to the media. The U.S. government didn't immediately make a statement.

The proposal calls for member states to raise their contributions gradually from 2024 so they would account for half of the agency's $2 billion core budget by 2028, compared to less than 20% now, according to the document.

The WHO core budget is aimed at fighting pandemics and strengthening health care systems across the world. An additional $1 billion or so is raised a year from now to tackle specific global challenges such as tropical diseases and influenza.

Supporters say that the current reliance on voluntary funding from member states and charities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation forces the WHO to focus on priorities set by the funders and makes it less able to criticize members when things go wrong.

An independent panel on pandemics appointed to advise on WHO reform had called for a bigger increase in mandatory fees, to 75% of the core budget, which deems the current system a major risk to the integrity and independence of the WHO.

The WHO said that only flexible and predictable funds can enable WHO to implement the priorities of the Member States. Three European officials said that top European Union donors, including Germany, back the plan, along with most African, South Asian, South American and Arab countries.

Three of the officials said that the proposal will be discussed at the WHO's executive board meeting next week, but the divisions mean no agreement is expected.

The WHO confirmed there was no consensus among member states, and said that talks were likely to continue until the May annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the agency's top decision-making body.

European donors favor empowering rather than weakening multilateral organizations, including the WHO.

One European official said the U.S. plan causes skepticism among many countries and said the creation of a new structure controlled by donors would weaken the agency's ability to combat future epidemics, rather than by the WHO.

Washington has been critical of the WHO for a long time.

Former President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the WHO after accusing him of defending China's initial delays in sharing information when COVID 19 emerged there in 2019.

The Biden administration resigned soon after taking office but officials said they think the WHO needs significant reform and raised concerns about its governance, structure and ability to confront rising threats, not least from China.

One of the European officials said other big countries, including Japan and Brazil, were hesitant about the WHO proposal.

Two of the European officials said that China had not yet made its position clear, while a third official listed Beijing among the critics of the proposal.

The governments of Brazil, China and Japan had no immediate comment.