US$100 million fund needed for future health alerts

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Margaret Chan, Director General WHO, said the world was ill-prepared for Ebola. Photo: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Additional powers and a US$100 million fund are needed to tackle future global health alerts, the World Health Organization’s chief said on Monday.

Margaret Chan described the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa as a “defining moment” for the organization.

The UN health agency head made her remarks on the opening day of the organisation’s 68th annual general meeting in Geneva, where 194 member states are set to decide the future shape of public health.

Here’s Daniel Johnson’s report from Geneva:

Margaret Chan described the world as “ill-prepared” for the killer disease that struck West Africa leaving more than 11,000 people dead.

In her address to nearly 200 member states, Dr Chan said that with the help of the international community, she planned to bring in changes that would result in a single, streamlined structure to deal with future health emergencies.

Reporting directly to Dr Chan, the new WHO taskforce will have performance benchmarks for 24, 48 and 72 hours – and “not months”, she told delegates.

The USD 100 million contingency fund would give the organisation the “necessary resources” for an initial emergency response, the WHO chief said.

“I do not ever again want to see this organisation faced with a situation it is not prepared, staffed, funded or administratively set up to change and manage all these changes. We will move forward on an urgent footing; I plan to complete these changes by the end of the year.”

The WHO chief also said that countries needed well-functioning health systems to withstand shocks from climate change, “a runaway virus or an overload of patients with non-communicable diseases”.

States could help themselves by implementing agreed international health regulations, but too little is being achieved, Dr Chan said.

She added that many countries had asked her for an “independent peer review” to ensure that states’ national capacities are up to the “standard expected” of them.

Earlier in the day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the WHO general assembly as head of the G7 group of industrialised nations.

Dr Merkel said that there is a “human right to health” and that it was a key requirement for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

On Ebola, the German Chancellor said that WHO had “central legitimacy” on global health issues.

She also called for greater collaboration between WHO, the UN system as a whole and the World Bank to ensure that contingency plans were in place for health threats akin to those for natural disasters.

“If we act faster, and have a clear command structure in place, we will be better equipped to combat a crisis such as Ebola next time.”

Dr Merkel also stressed the need for countries to build up their own resilient health systems and announced a 200 million euro fund for countries to do so, 70 million euros for west African countries alone.

Dr Merkel said it was also important to combat neglected tropical and poverty related diseases, as well as tackling anti-microbial resistance.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations

Duration: 2’40″