The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday urged countries to carry out reforms needed to prepare for the next pandemic and honor a previous commitment to boost financing for the U.N. health agency.
Speaking at the WHO’s annual health assembly weeks after ending the global emergency status for the COVID-19 pandemic, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was time to advance negotiations on preventing the next one.
“We cannot kick this can down the road,” the WHO Director-General said in a major address to the agency’s member states, warning that the next pandemic was bound to “come knocking.”
“If we do not make the changes that must be made, then who will? And if we do not make them now, then when?” he said.
The 10-day annual World Health Assembly in Geneva, which coincides with the body’s 75th anniversary, is set to address global health challenges including future pandemics.
The WHO’s 194 member states are currently negotiating reforms to the binding rules that fix their obligations in the event of an international health threat and are also drafting a broader pandemic treaty which is up for ratification next year.
“A commitment from this generation (to a pandemic accord) is important, because it is this generation that experienced how awful a small virus could be,” said Tedros. Countries are also set to consider later on Monday the WHO’s 2024-2025 budget which includes increases to countries’ annual fees.
Tedros said that the WHO had made progress in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that more needed to be done to ensure that the world was better prepared for the next one.
“We need to make sure that we have the tools, the systems and the resources in place to detect, track and respond to any new pandemic as quickly as possible,” he said.
Tedros also called on countries to increase their funding for the WHO, saying that the agency was “chronically underfunded”.
“The WHO is the only global health organization with a mandate to coordinate the world’s response to health emergencies,” he said. “But we cannot do this alone. We need the support of our member states.”
The WHO’s budget for 2022-2023 is $5.7 billion. Tedros said that the agency needed an additional $1 billion per year to be able to effectively respond to future pandemics.
It remains to be seen whether countries will be willing to increase their funding for the WHO. However, Tedros’s call for action is a timely reminder of the need to prepare for the next pandemic.