WHO 'overstretched' in response to increasing health emergencies

By Jennifer Rigby

LONDON (Reuters) - A growing number of health emergencies around the world, from COVID-19 to cholera, have left the World Health Organization's response "overstretched", a senior advisor said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the U.N. agency's annual meeting, Professor Walid Ammar, chair of a committee reviewing the WHO's emergency response, said funding and staffing gaps were widening in the face of ever-increasing demands.

"[The] programme is overstretched as demands have only grown with the multiplicity and complexity of emergencies," he said.

As of March this year, the WHO was responding to 53 high-level emergencies, a report by the committee said. These included diseases like COVID-19, cholera and a Marburg outbreak in Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania, as well as humanitarian emergencies like the earthquake in Turkey and Syria and floods in Pakistan.

The report also noted that climate change was increasing the frequency of events like floods and cyclones, all of which have health consequences.

However, the emergency programme's core budget for 2022-2023 is only about 53% funded, the report found, calling for more stable financing.

The WHO and member states are trying to reform how the agency - and countries - respond to health emergencies, as well as shoring up the WHO's funding. On Monday, member states approved a new budget including a 20% hike in their mandatory fees.

The report also called on the WHO to look for more efficiencies: for example, in Malawi, four different emergency teams were responding to cholera, COVID-19, polio, and flooding, in ways that may have overlapped, it said.

(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Christina Fincher)