WHO chief looks forward to working "very closely" with Biden team

Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva

WHO chief looks forward to working "very closely" with Biden team

FILE PHOTO: World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva

By Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization chief on Monday welcomed efforts to strengthen the Geneva-based body through reform and said it was looking forward to working closely with the administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.

WHO's funding must become more flexible and predictable to end a "major misalignment" between expectations and available resources, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, citing reform efforts by France, Germany and the European Union.

"We still have a lot of work left to do, but we believe that we're on the right track," Tedros told health ministers as the annual meeting resumed of the WHO, which groups 194 countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump has frozen U.S. funding to the WHO and begun a process that would see the United States withdraw from the body next July, drawing wide international criticism amid the COVID-19 crisis. He accuses the WHO of being "China-centric" in its handling of the pandemic, which Tedros has repeatedly denied.

Biden, who convened a national coronavirus task force on Monday, said during campaigning he would rescind Trump's decision to abandon the WHO on his first day in office.

Tedros urged the international community to recapture a sense of common purpose, adding: "In that spirit we congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and we look forward to working with this administration very closely.

"We need to reimagine leadership, build on mutual trust and mutual accountability to end the pandemic and address the fundamental inequalities that lie at the root of so many of the world's problems," he said.

An oversight panel called last week for reforms at the WHO including "predictable and flexible" funding and setting up a multi-tiered system to warn countries earlier about disease outbreaks before they escalate.

Germany's health minister Jens Spahn, speaking on behalf of the EU, said WHO needed stable and flexible financing.

"The EU stands ready to take a leading role in the process of strengthening WHO and has launched an inclusive process to discuss ideas on reform", Spahn said.

"From Germany's point of view, the COVID-19 pandemic must be understood as a game-changer...None of us was adequately prepared," he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge; Editing by Catherine Evans)