Perspective from Lawrence O. Gostin, JD
May 27, 2016
2 min read

World Health Assembly establishes new health emergencies program

Perspective from Lawrence O. Gostin, JD
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During the 69th World Health Assembly, WHO member states agreed to establish a new health emergencies program to improve the agency’s response to outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies, according to a press release.

The new program will be one of the most profound transformations in the organization’s history, the release said. It will consolidate prevention, preparedness, response and early recovery efforts at the country, regional and headquarters level, functioning as a single workforce against worldwide emergencies with one set of standards, processes and operating procedures.

“We believe that through this, we will be faster, much more effective and also more predictable in terms of our part of responding to health emergencies,” Peter Graaff, MSc, MBA, director of WHO’s Emergency Operations and Ebola Response, told Infectious Disease News.

The program will operate on a “no regrets” basis, according to WHO, deploying resources within 72 hours and initial financial transfers within 24 hours of an emergency. Under the program’s new construct, the director-general will have ultimate authority, while the executive director will oversee strategic planning, risk and performance monitoring, the program budget, staff and partner relations. Regional directors will be responsible for enforcing program standards, intergovernmental and partner relations and day-to-day management of emergency activities.

The program will have one budget, which will help the executive director repurpose staff and funds where necessary, Graaff said. Member states agreed on a budget of $494 million — an increase of $160 million to the existing program budget, according to the release.

Margaret Chan

Margaret Chan

Since February, WHO reported that several components of the new program already have been used to manage several health emergencies. Within 24 hours of WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, declaring the Zika epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, $500 million was released to kick start operations, according to Graaff. He said the new health emergencies program would have been useful in responding to the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

“It would have been very easy for me as the WHO office lead to request emergency funding [and] to identify the human resource requirements,” he said. “It would have been much easier for the head of the program to employ staff within 72 hours who would be trained up against a standard way of doing work. Also, as a recipient, my colleagues and I would have been trained to receive them and made sure that the moment they landed, they could start doing the work that they came for rather than having the initial problems of the logistics and organizing the work.

“Under this new construct, the system is much more agile and standardized. I think that’s the excitement around this reform.” – by Stephanie Viguers

Disclosure: Graaff reports no relevant financial disclosures.