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Why in news?

With the 73rd World Health Assembly – the decision-making body of WHO- – taking place through Videoconferencing, the Covid-19 pandemic is taking centre stage.

Call for Action: Investigate COVID-19

  • WHA is taking up a motion backed by more than 120 countries, including India, that calls for a “stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of WHO coordinated international response to Covid-19.
  • It also calls for the identification of the zoonotic source of the coronavirus and its transmission to human populations.
  • Albeit, the motion refrains from mentioning China or Wuhan, its implementation will necessarily have to include investigation into China’s handling of the outbreak in the initial days.
  • A probe into the origin of the coronavirus is important to understand how it mutated and spread so quickly.

China’s Position on Investigations

  • China has been objecting to such a probe and even threatened Australia with trade repercussions for trying to drum up international support for an investigation.
  • In fact, Canberra has already been hit with a beef strike with Beijing suspending imports from four major Australian suppliers.
  • But with the WHA motion getting the backing of a majority of nations, China may not have a choice but to go along with it.

Fundamental Issue: Need to reform WHO

  • The fundamental issue here is WHO’s limited ability to tackle a pandemic like Covid-19.
  • The global health body can only issue advisories and has no enforcement powers.
  • WHO should be reformed to play a more active role in preventing global health threats.
  • The minimum it can do is ask for annual compliance reports from member countries vis-à-vis health recommendations made by it – something that its constitution already allows.

India and the Way Forward

  • With India taking over the chair of the WHO executive board, it should push for new crisis management protocols and give the global health body some teeth.
  • Covid-19 has shown that WHO can’t remain a soft adviser. It must helm a global health architecture that demands accountability.

-Source: Times of India

December 2023