The head of the World Health Organization urged nations on Monday to implement the necessary changes to get ready for the upcoming pandemic, praising their “historic” choice to accept a significant budget increase at the annual session of the U.N. organization.
Several weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic’s global emergency designation was lifted, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated it was time to move negotiations toward the goal of preventing the next pandemic in a speech to the gathering.
“We cannot kick this can down the road,” the WHO director-general said in a major address to the agency’s member states, warning that the next pandemic was bound to “come knocking”.
“If we do not make the changes that must be made, then who will? And if we do not make them now, then when?” he said.
The 10-day annual World Health Assembly in Geneva, which coincides with the WHO’s 75th anniversary, is set to address global health challenges including future pandemics, eradicating polio and supporting steps to ease Ukraine’s health emergency triggered by Russia’s invasion.
The WHO’s 194 member states are now drafting a pandemic treaty which is up for adoption at next year’s assembly.
“A commitment from this generation (to a pandemic accord) is important, because it is this generation that experienced how awful a small virus could be,” said Tedros.
At the same meeting, countries approved a $6.83 billion budget for 2024-25 – a decision that tested national commitments to fixing a WHO funding model which was seen as too small and overly reliant on the vagaries of donors.
The budget includes a 20% increase in member states’ mandatory fees under a preliminary agreement reached last year in exchange for a commitment to reforms including on budget, governance and finance policies.
U.S. Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Michele J. Sison said future increases would be “contingent upon continued reform progress”. Central and South American countries also called for the WHO to address what they described as chronic underfunding of their region.