World Health Organization: Says it’s a leader but acts as a bystander

The World Health Organization is supposed to be the leader of the global health initiatives. According to the World Health Organization’s website, “…it is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends” ( However, it is clear that recently, these responsibly of the WHO have been relinquished to other actors in the global system and, in some cases, bypassed all together.

Laurie Garrett, the writer of “Existential Challenges to Global Health”, pinpoints five challenges that global health, especially the WHO, face. One of the most compelling challenges that Garrett uses is the fact that money plays a large role in limiting the efficacy of the WHO as a directing body in global health. She explains that the WHO has trouble finding permanent and reliable donors, which has caused the WHO to rely on private actors, like the Gates family, for funds. The issue with this is that by accepting large sums of money from private actors, the WHO essentially gives up its right to have a main role in global health. The reason for this is that those private donors could have two main reasons for providing so much money to the WHO. The first could be that they genuinely care about global health and want to bring medical attention to the impoverished of the world. However, another incentive could be the fact that these donors could place conditions on their funds. So they could ask the WHO to give priority to a specific region or to send more aid to those that are suffering from leper instead of those with Ebola.

Additionally, the Fox article about the lack of aid sent to Ebola victims in West Africa is a perfect example of the WHO’s diminished leadership role. According to the article, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent 12 people to West Africa. But these individuals were not there to provide care to patients, but rather provide advice to the physicians that are already there. They were taken to West Africa to provide a plan of action. This situation is indicative of the lack of power that the WHO has in actually mobilizing action. First of all, the fact that an American institution sent all of these people shows that the WHO has no way of telling other nations to send aid, nor can they demand a specific number of people. It seems as if they are reliant on governments and private actors to find incentive and are willing to do something. All the WHO seems to do is act as a supervisor, but overall a bystander to the situation. Additionally, the lack of appropriate infrastructure and equipment to treat the epidemic, in places like Liberia, is a direct failure on part of the WHO. This is because one of its main points in its mission statement is to provide “technical support”. Although the U.S. has provided 12 people to provide advice, the WHO should provide materials and physicians to rectify the situation. Even the best advice in the world will be useless if there is no one who can carry it out.


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