SWITZERLAND – The World Health Organization member countries have agreed to change the way the UN health agency is funded, giving it much more money to spend on its own priorities.
The budget overhaul is intended to fortify the organization and make it more agile in responding to global health crises.
The change will provide the WHO with a more stable revenue stream as well as control over a much larger portion of the funding that flows through its Geneva headquarters.
“This is a historic moment,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as the resolution was adopted at the World Health Assembly, the organization’s annual gathering of member states that serves as its decision-making body.
He stated that it would change the way the WHO is funded and operates.
“It will give us a predictable and sustainable funding platform from which to deliver long-term programming in countries,” he said.
Member states are currently investing the majority of their funds in short-term health projects of their choosing, which can fluctuate.
The pandemic has demonstrated why the world needs WHO, but also why the world needs a stronger, empowered and sustainably financed WHO.”
However, countries will now transition to paying half of their WHO contributions as simple membership fees, giving the organization more flexibility.
Tedros, who was re-elected earlier Tuesday, has made overhauling the agency’s finances a priority.
After the Covid-19 crisis exposed the shortcomings of the existing system, he warned countries that it was “now or never.”
“The pandemic has demonstrated why the world needs WHO, but also why the world needs a stronger, empowered and sustainably financed WHO,” Tedros told the assembly.
The WHO is funded by its 194 member countries and non-governmental organizations.
Membership fees – or “assessed contributions” based on wealth and population – account for less than one-fifth of WHO funding.
The majority of it currently comes from “voluntary contributions” from member states and donors, which are directed toward specific outcomes.
As a result, the WHO has limited resources to respond to crises such as Covid-19, the Ukrainian war, and other health emergencies.
By the 2030-2031 budget cycle, the membership fee portion will have risen to 50%.
In exchange, the WHO will be expected to implement reforms, such as greater transparency in its funding and hiring.
Changing the funding model will allow the WHO to implement its priorities “more effectively and efficiently,” said Tedros.
The two-year program budget for 2022-2023 has been approved at US$6.12 billion. The total is a 5% increase over the US$5.84 billion budgeted for 2020-2021.
According to the most recent figures, assessed contributions total US$957 million, while specified voluntary contributions total US$3.7 billion, highlighting the disparity Tedros wishes to address.
Assessed contributions are set to rise by 20% in the next budget alone, to approximately US$1.2 billion.
The United States (US$219 million), China (US$115 million), Japan (US$82 million), Germany (US$58 million), and the United Kingdom (US$44 million) currently pay the highest assessed contribution membership fees.
The new proposals were put forward by a working group tasked with finding a long-term solution for the WHO’s finances.
Chairman Bjoern Kuemmel said the group found a “huge discrepancy” between what member states expected the WHO to do and how they funded the organization.
He called the decision “groundbreaking” as it would ensure that the WHO “adequately equipped and able to be the leading coordinating authority on global health.”