Geneva | The coronavirus, which has already infected 10% of the world’s population, is a “wake-up call” for the international community, said the WHO boss on Monday, calling for an acceleration of the reform of the organization in the face of emergencies sanitary facilities.
• Read also: All developments in the COVID-19 pandemic
Speaking at the opening of a special session of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) on the response to COVID-19, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus vigorously defended the work of the organization, accused in particular by US President Donald Trump of incompetence in his management of the pandemic which has killed more than a million people.
By his side, WHO’s director of health emergencies, Michael Ryan, explained that around 10% of the world’s population may have been infected, or around 780 million people and double the official figures.
Mr. Tedros defended the reform he implemented over the past three years of an organization that had been accused of underestimating the extent of the Ebola crisis in West Africa between late 2013 and 2016. But he called for faster reform to be even more effective.
“We are not on the wrong track, (…) but we have to go faster. The pandemic is a wake-up call to all of us, ”he said, masked.
“We all need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves what we can do best,” he added.
This extraordinary two-day meeting of the WHO Executive Board, which brings together representatives of 34 countries elected for a period of three years and is responsible for preparing and implementing the decisions of the members of the organization, is only the fifth in its history.
It was convened by WHO to follow up on a resolution approved by member states in May, providing for an “independent assessment” of the UN agency’s and international community’s response to the pandemic.
“The world needs a robust system of peer review,” pointed out the head of the WHO, citing as an example the Universal Periodic Review established by the Human Rights Council, a review to which must submit all UN members regularly.
“We encourage countries to come up with new ideas,” continued the Ethiopian, adding: “We must be open to change and we must implement the changes now.”
The WHO declared the global alert on January 30 against COVID-19. The institution has since been strongly criticized, in particular by the United States, for having delayed declaring this state of emergency, when the coronavirus had been reported in late December in China.
The organization has also been criticized for recommendations deemed late or contradictory, in particular on the wearing of the mask or the modes of transmission of the virus. Others also pointed out that the organization lacks both budgetary resources and independence from states.
On Monday, Austrian representative Clemens Martin Auer praised WHO’s swift response to COVID-19 and the organization’s “information” efforts, but called for reviewing its governance.
“We would have liked to meet earlier,” he said in particular. “Is the Council an active body or is it a facade to express gratitude (of countries) for the work that is being done? “
In recent weeks, several countries have launched avenues for reflection on reforming the WHO, like the United States and the Franco-German couple.
“We hope to be able to use this special session to start turning these many good ideas into action,” said the US representative, Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health, on a video conference.
These reform plans will also be discussed by the 164 members of WHO in November.
On this occasion, countries will also discuss the consequences of the withdrawal of the United States, the agency’s largest donor. “This is a subject that concerns us a lot,” the Russian representative said in a video conference, while the Austrian representative expressed fears of “weakening” the WHO.