Role of WHO
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This article is written by Rachit Garg from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies. This article aims to define the role of international organizations and their contribution to the ongoing pandemic.

Introduction

The first case of COVID-19 emerged in December 2019, when a mysterious illness was reported in Wuhan, China. Since then, there has been a lot of growth about the same and it has been referred to as the Coronavirus. 

Moreover, in February 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave the virus an official name that is COVID-19, which is nothing but a shorter version of ‘coronavirus disease 2019’. 

However, this is not the formal name of this virus and it is referred to as- “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”, or SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses as it is related to SARS virus that caused an outbreak in 2003. 

As of April 2020, the total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus patients as per global statistics were more than 36 lakh, while confirmed deaths have reached 2.5 lakh. As of the number of cases in India, the number has reached more than 46000, and more than 1500 people have died. 

In a situation like this, where all the sectors and industries are suffering, while the GDP growth has gone stagnant, a joint-global effort becomes really crucial and international organizations plays a vital role for the same. 

Why International Cooperation become important during such a pandemic?

  • When countries work together, it promotes efficiency. Each region in a country faces different risks and has different strengths. If every country continues to share information about their developments in handling the situation, it will build their surge capacity-an asset, which will help them prepare for all possibilities.
  • Countries can promote the level of trust among each other if they come together. It will enable the national decision-makers to take the right measures regarding public health relying on sound information. 

In order to effectively prevent and control any pandemic, the biomedical cooperation of nations becomes essential. Keeping those countries with low levels of public health emergency preparedness at priority, for the purpose of epidemic control, pooling global medical resources to facilitate drugs and vaccine research becomes really important.

Currently, many such leading health research institutes are conducting clinical trials from the existing drugs that have been found to be effective in order to identify a specific cure.

  • Moreover, with the help of international cooperation, the shortage of medical supplies, especially in weaker countries can be alleviated. In the worst affected areas, doctors and nurses along with physicians of various departments and clinics and also the patients, require protective gear to be prevented from this virus, due to which, the demand for them has risen to the level exceeding the supply. In such a situation where supply cannot meet the growing demands, it can be fulfilled with the support of international cooperation.
  • It cannot be denied that with international coordination, the economic impact from the ongoing epidemic can be less severe and hence, can also help in the revival of global economic growth. OECD has projected the GDP drop to 2.4% in 2020 compared to 2.9% in 2019 and acknowledges the benefits of economic policy cooperation.

Contribution of International Organisation in times of Coronavirus

This brings me to wonder if these international organizations have been really effective in managing the situation and how much they have really contributed to the same cause. 

World Health Organization (WHO)

Role of WHO

Created by the member states of the United Nations (UN) in 1948, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is a specialized agency for the promotion of global public health. Being the world’s leading health organization, it’s policies and programs have uplifted international public health. According to its constitution, WHO is defined as an authority, which directs and coordinates international health work. Aiming at “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible standard of health”, its mission is to:

  1. Reduce the burden of disease and poverty,
  2. Improve public lives, and
  3. Provide access to the public with effective health care facilities.

Some of the WHO’s responsibilities and functions include:

  1. Assist governments in strengthening and improving health services,
  2. Helps to stimulate eradication of diseases,
  3. Promotes international conventions and agreements to improve public health,
  4. Conducts research,
  5. Formulate international standards for food, biological and pharmaceutical products, and
  6. Improves nutrition, sanitation, housing, working conditions, and various other aspects of environmental hygiene.

Steps Taken

With the outbreak of the pandemic, the WHO holds the most important role as an international organization to deal with the situation and prevent it from getting worse. With the increasing widespread of the COVID-19 as on 30th January 2020, the second meeting of the emergency committee summoned together under the International Health Regulations, WHO Director-General, DrTedros Adhanom declared the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which is a formal declaration that an ongoing epidemic/outbreak is a serious threat to all the countries and collective international efforts are needed to control this situation. PHEIC (pronounced as ‘fakes’) helps in controlling the outbreak of disease and has been called upon multiple times previously. 

So, what are the various plans/steps that have been formulated by the WHO?

Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan

As of 5th February 2020, WHO launched a US$ 675 million Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP), to fight the spread of the virus and with the intention to protect the global states and others with a weaker system. The objective of the plan includes:

  • Limit human-to-human transmission of the virus,
  • Minimize social and economic impact,
  • Reduce the spread of the virus from animal sources, and
  • Early isolation and care of patients.

It helps to identify the public health measures that are needed to be taken to support countries in handling the pandemic. Moreover, based on the assessment of country risk and vulnerability, the plan estimates the resources required to support countries to prepare for and respond to COVID-19.

Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP)

Moreover, in March 2020, the UN launched a US$ 2 Billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP). This plan covers 51 countries across South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, which are the most vulnerable and already facing a humanitarian crisis, suffering due to conflicts, climate change, and natural disasters. It is an inter-agency plan, to improve the current humanitarian appeal from different international NGOs and organizations, which include UNICEF, UNHRC, UNDP, etc. Launched for the tenure of 9 months, the plan has three main objectives:

  • Contain the spread of the virus and decrease/control mortality,
  • Decrease degradation of human assets, rights, and livelihoods, and
  • Protect, advocate, and assist the most vulnerable of them all.

Further, the plan also aims to deliver essential commodities for treatment, install hand sanitizing equipment, and launch information campaigns for the public. Moreover, the plan appeals to the countries for global solidarity rather than individuality in handling the situation.

Solidarity Response Fund

According to WHO, this is a “first-of-its-kind” fund, created to tackle COVID-19 around the world by allowing any individual, institution, or organization to donate directly to the organization. It was launched with the support of the UN Foundation and Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. The funds will be diverted towards the actions outlined in the Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, and particularly to those countries with a weaker system, that are at high-risk. As of now, the fund has raised over US$ 140 million from over 2,43,000 donors around the globe.

Solidarity Clinical Trial

With the aim to find an effective treatment for the COVID-19, WHO launched an international clinical trial. The trial intends to compare four treatment options in order to find out their effectiveness in curing the virus. List of the compounds are:

  • Remdesivir (experimental antiviral compound)
  • Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (malaria medication)
  • Combination of lopinavir and ritonavir (HIV Drugs)
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Other Actions that matters

  1. WHO has shipped to over 75 countries personal protective equipment, including more than:
  • 8,00,000 surgical masks,
  • 54,000 N95 face masks,
  • 15,000 goggles,
  • 24,000 face shields, and
  • 85,000 gowns.

2. 1.5 million diagnostic kits have been sent to over 126 countries, including countries like Africa, the Americas, and the Eastern Meditarrian Region.

3. It has created six multilingual online courses and one simulation exercise to help build the global capacity to tackle the virus.

World Bank 

The International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), also known as the World Bank, is an international financial organization whose function is to give financial advice and aid in developing countries’ economic advancement. It helps in fighting poverty by offering financial assistance to middle and low-income countries.

The World Bank started the US$ 1.9 billion emergency support operation in 25 countries. It is ready to deploy up to US$ 160 billion over the next 15 months to help fight COVID 19. The program will aim to:

  1. Shorten the time of recovery
  2. Create conditions for growth
  3. Help protect the most vulnerable and poor
  4. Support small and medium enterprises

Due to the widespread supply chain disruption, the World Bank is also helping countries by providing countries access to medical supplies by reaching out to the suppliers on behalf of the governments. 

Out of 25 countries, India has received the biggest grant of US$1 billion, which will support emergency screening, laboratory diagnostics, procurement of personal protective equipment, contract tracing, and to set up new isolation wards.

Moreover, International Financial Corporation (IFC), part of the World Bank Group, is providing US$ 8 billion, to help private companies that are affected by the pandemic and to preserve jobs. 

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

It is a financial organization, comprising 189 countries that are working forward to promote employment and sustainable growth, foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, and reduce poverty around the world.

The International Monetary Fund has granted debt relief to over 25 poor member countries to allow them to deploy their resources to fight COVID-19. The countries benefiting from the same are mainly Africa, but also include Yemen, Haiti, and Afghanistan. It is also proposing US$ 1 trillion lending capacity in order to support countries to fight the pandemic.

Moreover, the IMF and the World Bank have called upon the developed/rich nations to give debt reliefs and stop collecting payments from poor countries from 1 May to June 2021.

In April 2020, the United National General Assembly (UNDP) unanimously adopted a resolution, which calls for intensive international cooperation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also led to severe harm to the world economy and societies. The resolution was sponsored by six nations- Singapore, Switzerland, Norway, Ghana, Liechtenstein, and Indonesia, and co-sponsored by 188 other countries, which included India. The resolution realizes the importance of coordinated global response to tackle the epidemic, based on unity, solidarity, and renewed multilateral cooperation. Moreover, it does not fail to emphasize the importance of the need to respect human rights and strongly urges that in the pandemic response system, there is no place for discrimination or any form of racism or xenophobia. 

Conclusion

Currently, the COVID-19 is affecting every individual, especially the ones in the most vulnerable countries who are facing severe humanitarian crises. Not only that, but industries are also suffering greatly due to this pandemic as each nation has been advised to practice social distancing. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the pandemic might cost the global economy US$1-2 trillion in 2020 itself. Moreover, everyone eyes for the availability of an effective vaccine to cure the virus but that is quite uncertain as of now. In such a situation, a consolidated humanitarian response becomes important to lower the impact of the pandemic. However, the international organizations (like WHO) do not hold the authority to command nations and can only advise them on how they should handle the situation as per the global standards. Also, they are trying their best to handle the situation by trying to incorporate every nation together so as to ensure solidarity in the ongoing crisis. If these nations can let go of their economic, political, and social differences and are willing to come together for a better cause, the situation can be handled effectively.


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