BELGIUM – A planned funding overhaul aimed at strengthening the World Health Organization (WHO) has been partially watered down, following pressure from the United States and other donor countries according to media agency Reuters, citing an internal document.

The WHO is currently funded primarily through voluntary contributions from governments and private donors, a model that the United Nations agency and independent expert panels have said is unsustainable as the organization faces new challenges, such as increased pandemic risk.

In an effort to reduce the agency’s reliance on conditional donations, a WHO working group proposed increasing mandatory contributions to the agency’s budget in January.

However, following criticism from several donors, including the United States, increases in mandatory fees are now linked to reforms aimed at making the United Nations body more efficient and transparent, according to an internal WHO document.

According to the United Nations, the draft reform is still subject to change and may not include strict payment-increase conditions.

According to the original proposal, member states’ mandatory fees would gradually increase beginning in 2024, eventually accounting for half of the agency’s US$2 billion core budget by the 2028-29 biennium, up from less than 20% now.

This payment increase would provide the WHO with a more stable source of funding. According to supporters of the funding plan, this was expected to make the body more independent and efficient by reducing its reliance on voluntary donors, whose contributions are typically linked to health goals set by themselves.

The United States, which pays the WHO’s highest membership fee in accordance with its larger economy, has questioned the WHO’s funding proposal and has pushed for G20 countries to invest in a separate fund for pandemic prevention and preparedness, hosted by the World Bank.

The US has not stated whether it supports a 50% increase in mandatory fees, which would cost the US$240 million per year by 2029.

It has, however, openly urged the WHO to become more efficient and improve its operations before considering any funding changes.

According to the document seen by Reuters, negotiators have now prepared a compromise text after months of discussions.

The new draft, dated April 11, conditionally increases mandatory fees, or assessed contributions, on governance reforms.

A fee increase would be implemented for the fiscal year 2024-2025, but the two subsequent budget increases required to bring mandatory fees to 50% of the total by 2029 would be implemented only after efficiency reforms were implemented.

The principle here is that in return for a greater investment by Member States in terms of AC (Assessed Contributions), the Secretariat would have to demonstrate a greater return in terms of value for money,” the draft document says, referring to the WHO’s executive body.

This could imply that if no governance reforms were implemented, the WHO’s mandatory budget would increase by less than the planned 50%.

According to the WHO, it was working on a roadmap document that would outline the milestones required to improve governance and unblock funds, including more spending transparency.

Negotiators will meet next week to discuss the reform document and the WHO roadmap. The funding overhaul will be formalized for the annual meeting of WHO’s decision-making body in May.

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