[Ip-health] New book on WHO

German Velasquez gvelasquez.gva at gmail.com
Tue Dec 5 06:55:49 PST 2017

A new book by Yves Beigbeder: “The World Health Organization, achievements
and failures”. Ed. by Routledge London and New York. December 2017.  As the
author mentions, the “book reviews and assesses WHO past and current
achievements, including on-going operations and reported problems or

This is the third book by Yves Beigbeder  on the World Health Organization,
demonstrating once again that the author is one of the persons in the world
who has analyzed and has great knowledge of the history, achievements,
problems and failures of the World Health Organization.

The previous WHO Director General, Margaret Chan,  fought  for 10 years, to
maintain a public agenda for this organization; an agenda that a small
group of industrialized countries and philanthropic foundations had
difficulties in accepting and supporting.

For the new DG, good intentions and tireless work will not suffice. The
commitment of all member countries to uphold a public and independent
agency, that will be able  to set up, with recognized authority, the rules
to guide the global public health challenges for the next 20 years, is
urgently needed.

As mentioned by the author, the main and most critical issue of WHO has
been the progressive and vertiginous loss of control of the regular, public
and compulsory budget. A progressive privatization of the organization is
currently taking place. In less than 25 years the budget went from more
than 50% financed through public funds, constituted by assessed
contributions, to currently only 18 to 20%. WHO is currently in the hands
(approximately 80% of its Budget) of philanthropic foundations such as the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a small number of industrialized
countries that provide voluntary earmarked funds and big pharma. These
voluntary contributions are channelled to health priorities decided by the
funders and not the governments, members of the organization.

The new Director General has insisted clearly, that the regular budget
should be increased to preserve the public character of the organization.
The increase of the regular budget, as advocated by Yves Beigbeder’s book,
is the only way to ensure that WHO continues doing its core work without
having to incessantly follow donor-driven agenda priorities.

Another important problem, analysed in this book,  that would need to be
addressed is the dilemma between a normative agency in charge of
formulation and creation of international standards; the administration of
the international health code regulations and the creation of binding
agreements in global health versus a humanitarian agency that implements
projects that have been financed by international “charity”, competing and
duplicating efforts of other agencies such as the Global Fund, GAVI,
UNITAID or other UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNAIDS or UNDP or big NGOs
such as MSF. The blame of the  mistakes made with the H1N1 and Ebola
epidemics, as mentioned by the author, have created a movement that has
given the organization a double mission – a normative one as well as an
operational one. However, WHO should be a normative agency and not an
operational one and it needs to be properly resourced and reorganized to
perform its mandate.

Many ideas and analyses in this book,  could help the re-orientation of the
Organization.  The dilemma more than ever is between what a few donors of
the organization want, what the organization does, and  what the world
needs today from a United Nations agency devoted to health.

For those who still believe in the role to be played by the United Nations
in the area of Health and even more, for those who want to provide
solutions and contribute to the future leadership of WHO, the present book
by Yves Beigbeder is an  indispensable work.

Germán Velásquez

Special Adviser for Health and Development

South Centre, Geneva

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