Long-term future of WHO at risk from financial crisis

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Ahead of the 65th World Health Assembly (WHA), taking place in Geneva next week, International agency Oxfam has warned that the fundamental role of the...

Ahead of the 65th World Health Assembly (WHA), taking place in Geneva next week, International agency Oxfam has warned that the fundamental role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the leading agency for global health is at risk because it has suffered from a severe financial crisis and related heavy staff losses.

At a time when demands on the WHO are increasing, Member State contributions are falling, which could ultimately lead to a reduction in access to quality health care for millions of people in developing countries.

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Oxfam Policy Advisor Mohga Kamal-Yanni said "There is a very real danger that continued cost cutting would result in even greater losses of critical staff and expertise, diminishing the WHO’s capacity to support governments to strengthen health systems."

The way the WHO budget is allocated is exacerbating the situation. Currently 80 percent of WHO funding is made up of voluntary contributions, which are earmarked for particular projects, whilst only 20 percent is flexible.

This skewing of resources leaves the WHO with a $300m budget shortfall, meaning it is unable to fulfil its ‘core functions’ like providing technical advice to countries and using medical experts to set standards and guidelines for treatment, which countries across the globe rely upon to run their health systems.

Kamal-Yanni said “Expecting the WHO to deliver these core functions without matching them with sufficient resources is like expecting a car to run without an engine. Sooner or later it’s going to stall and this could put many lives at risk.

“The WHO needs a fundamental shift in the way it is financed, with more of the budget being provided as flexible funds. Waiting to agree financial support for core functions until 2013, when the WHA is due to endorse the programme budget, may be too late to prevent irreversible damage.”

Oxfam is also calling on Member States attending the WHA to ensure the WHO’s Essential Medicines Department (EMD) receives sufficient funding from WHO’s regular budget, which has suffered gravely from a loss of technical expertise because of cuts.

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