3 Reasons the World’s Poor Need the WHO Right Now

It’s vital to remember how essential this global body is in saving lives – particularly in the poorest countries on earth.

There’s been heightened commentary in recent days about the World Health Organisation’s effectiveness in containing the spread of coronavirus. While there have been worthy critiques of the organisation’s shortcomings, it’s vital to remember how essential this global body is in saving lives — particularly in the poorest countries on earth.

Here are three reasons why, despite its flaws, the world’s poor need the World Health Organisation (WHO) right now:

1. The WHO ensures no country, however poor, is left to fight Covid-19 alone

The fight against a pandemic such as Covid-19 requires a uniquely global repsonse: there can be no weak links, or everyone faces the consequences. 

The World Health Organisation has utilised global efforts against coronavirus to equip nations which would be otherwise near-defenceless against the virus, and save lives.

This has been true in Uganda, one of the poorest countries on earth. The WHO has worked with the local Ministry of Health to investigate outbreaks and trace contacts, as well as oversee the delivery of personal protective equipment and over 20,000 testing kits.

The evidence is clear: the WHO’s work means no country is left behind in the fight against Covid-19.

2. The WHO’s work extends far beyond coronavirus — particularly in our own backyard

The health standards of people living across the Pacific region — from Tokelau to Tonga, and French Polynesia to Fiji — have improved dramatically over the past two decades. This is in no small part due to the WHO’s efforts to unify and strengthen health support and disease prevention across the region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday provided examples of exactly how the WHO has worked with Australia’s regional neighbours on all kinds of health work:

[The WHO that is responding to coronavirus] is the same WHO that was there in the Samoa measles outbreak of last year, the polio outbreak in PNG in 2018 and [that worked] in the Western Pacific on eliminating measles, rubella and tetanus, [and is] maintaining high levels of polio vaccination, the safety of essential medicines and vaccines, eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV and hepatitis and preventing diabetes and hypertension. … They do important work here in the Pacific.

3. The WHO’s commitment to improving the health of the world’s poor can be measured in years and decades, not weeks and months 

Many have been quick to critique the organisation’s response to the outbreak, forgetting that the body’s work to create healthier lives for people around the planet began far before coronavirus began, and will steadfastly continue well after news of the pandemic has left from our screens.

The WHO was established in 1948. Since then, it has made strides in responding to many outbreaks of measles and other deadly diseases, has vaccinated millions against smallpox and yellow fever, and is leading structural changes in response to the vast health challenges imposed by climate change.

This is work that has happened every day of the year for the past 70 years, and it’s showing no signs of slowing.

So despite its flaws, it’s clear the World Health Organisation is something worth protecting. 

Image credit: Cemetery workers burying a victim from the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, during a funeral in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 7, 2020. © 2020 Yogi Aroon Sidabariba / INA Photo Agency / Sipa USA via AP Images