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Why we need a new and improved World Health Organization

The World Health Organization is in a sorry state these days, by most accounts. It seems to have lost its rudder and is reportedly plagued by a lumbering, highly politicized and fractured membership who can hardly get together on anything.

Yet many say the WHO remains critical to our future well-being — if only because the world needs some kind of publicly accountable organization to guide strategy and provide intelligence in our ongoing fight against disease.

Writing in Nature, Laurie Garrett at the Council on Foreign Relations and Tikki Pang, a former policy director at WHO, argue the case for reforming and improving the 64-year-old agency:

The World Health Organization (WHO) is facing an unprecedented crisis that threatens its position as the premier international health agency. To ensure its leading role, it must rethink its internal governance and revamp its financing mechanisms.

It’s a good overview of what’s wrong with the WHO and what these two think needs to change. I asked Laurie to further explain why we need the WHO. Now that global health is almost an industry until itself, do we really need this creaky old UN agency?

In an email, she replied:

We desperately need a functioning WHO. Here’s a list of issues that plague us right now, and a viable, breathing WHO should solve. No other global entity can (or will):

–          Drug resistance, specifically NDM-1 plasmid control. If we don’t act globally and aggressively 100% of antibiotics will be useless with the decade.

–          Global drug safety and integrity

–          Pandemic influenza, especially the risk of man-made H5N1 (bird flu).

–          Health systems metrics – global measurement standards that donors will back.

–          Drug-resistant malaria, specifically artmesinin resistance. We are in a race for time, and need far more aggressive global policies FAST or malaria becomes incurable.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.