How Much Power Does WHO Need?

May 24, 2024 • Posted in Blog

by D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.

Executive Director

If all goes according to the current plan, much of the world’s power will be concentrated in the hands of one man: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The World Health Assembly (WHA), which governs the WHO, is set to meet beginning 27 May, in Geneva, Switzerland. Their agenda includes, among other items,

   1. an “investment round”: Note that the majority of the WHO’s funding comes from philanthropies (think Gates Foundation,      among others)

   2. a draft climate and health resolution

   3. approving a new WHO global strategy

   4. entering into a new pandemic treaty, variously named “pandemic accord” or “pandemic agreement”

Note that a treaty at this level has the force of law: the nuclear arms treaty is an example.

The declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) or a global pandemic sets into motion a multitude of actions (see International Health Regulations (IHR) proposed amendments): potential isolation or quarantine of persons/families/communities, regulations of movement of people and goods across political boundaries, vaccine manufacture and transport, utilization of protective equipment, and transfer of funds — often, massive transfers of funds. Declaring such a situation to exist would logically warrant deep thinking as well as timely action. This article will deal with one question: how wise is it to invest such power of declaration in one person, in a position that is unelected, and answerable to no one? That is the position of the WHO Director-General.

Consider a recent case: monkeypox, a relative of the smallpox virus. Monkeypox was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958; the first reported case in humans was in 1970. A 2003 multistate outbreak in the US involved primarily human contact with prairie dogs. A more recent outbreak occurred in 2022. As of May 21 of that year, monkeypox cases totaled “92 laboratory-confirmed cases and 28 cases of suspicion” in 12 member nations, and this was brought to the attention of the WHO. “On July 23, 2022, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, declared the current monkeypox outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), overriding the WHO Emergency Committee, which decided 6-9 against recommending a PHEIC.”

The proposed amendments to the IHR include many items of concern, with one being the greatly increased repository of power in the Director-General’s position.  Specifically, it states

2. If the Director-General considers, based on an assessment under these Regulations, that a potential or actual public health emergency of international concern is occurring, the Director-General shall notify all States Parties and seek to consult with the State Party in whose territory the event arises regarding this preliminary determination and may, in accordance with the procedure set forth in Article 49, seek the views of the Committee established under Article 48 (hereinafter the “Emergency Committee”) . If the Director-General determines that the event constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and the State Party are in agreement regarding this determination, the Director-General shall notify all the States Parties, in accordance with the procedure set forth in Article 49, seek the views of the Committee established under Article 48 (hereinafter the “Emergency Committee”) on appropriate temporary recommendations.

Note that the Director-General MAY seek the advice of the Committee. These proposed changes have not yet been adopted, but the Director-General in 2022 did not adhere to the advice of the committee.

Monkeypox data as of 5 March 2024, collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal

Would the consequences have been different if a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) had not been declared? Of course, no one knows. It is telling, however, that the Director-General of the WHO did not act in accordance with the WHO committee — and this predates any proposed increase in power for his position. We need to remember the words attributed to Lord Acton, that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The WHO and its leaders are not exceptions to that maxim.

More Resources

The Pandemic Treaty That Won't Prevent a Pandemic

WHO’s in Charge? WHAt’s in Store?

How the World Health Organization could fight future pandemics

What the WHO?

We must stop the pandemic treaty and take back control from the WHO

C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D.
Distinguished Fellow of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture



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