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World Health Organization

For a strong global health policy

Viruses do not stop at borders. In an increasingly interconnected world nation states and international organisations need to coordinate their responses to health risks. That is what the World Health Organization (WHO), a United Nations agency, is tasked with doing – with Germany’s active support.

An adult being injected with a vaccine in a health centre in Togo The WHO is best at combating those infections for which vaccines are available Photo: ullstein bild - BSIP / S.Caillet/BSIP

The Ebola epidemic made one thing clear, namely that disease outbreaks cannot be contained within national boundaries. Nation states worldwide need to join forces to effectively fight health risks.

The 2014/15 West Africa Ebola epidemic was the worst outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976. In August 2014 the WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The epidemic was successfully contained thanks to global crisis management. Just over 10,000 of the around 29,000 people who contracted the virus survived. In March 2016 the WHO declared the end of the outbreak.

Eradicating diseases through immunisation

The WHO's biggest successes have been achieved when it comes to combating those infectious diseases for which vaccines are available. Thanks to its global immunisation programmes each year several million children do not succumb to infections or sustain permanent disabilities.

Take the example of smallpox: In late 1979 the WHO declared that the disease had been eradicated. Following the launch, in 1967, of a global smallpox vaccine mass immunisation campaigns were started. In addition, whenever an infection was registered, all those in contact with the infected person were identified as quickly as possible in order to prevent an outbreak.

Successes have also been achieved when it comes to fighting polio (poliomyelitis): Europe was declared polio-free in 2002, for instance. The WHO is responsible for coordinating the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

In her video podcast on 21 October, World Polio Day, Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "You can see what this vaccination has achieved and that we have really been able to eradicate polio. And I hope that's how things will stay."

In contrast to smallpox, however, polio has not yet been eradicated worldwide. Although there has been a huge drop in the number of new infections, isolated cases are still registered. The only way to stop the further spread of polio is to continue with the immunisation programmes.

Building resilient health systems

The WHO is now in a position to deploy health specialists within 24 to 48 hours in an emergency like the Ebola outbreak. These specialists can control and contain disease outbreaks. The WHO can also provide vital supplies within 24 to 48 hours.

Nevertheless, national health systems need to be strong to be able to sustainably manage health crises. If everyone has access to healthcare it will be possible to tackle epidemics like Ebola and cholera more effectively. That is why the WHO also supports poorer countries in building resilient health systems.

The Federal Government already committed to strengthening poorer countries' health systems during its G7 Presidency in 2015 and then again during its G20 Presidency in 2017. The G7 and G20 countries all pledged to make more funding available to help build resilient health systems.

Federal Government supports WHO

In 2017 the Federal Government provided a total of around 108 million euros towards the WHO's budget.

The Federal Ministry of Health contributed 63 million euros, 26.6 million euros of which was made up of membership contributions and 25 million euros of voluntary contributions. This represented a 5 million euro increase in the Federal Government's voluntary contribution. In addition, the Federal Government covered the costs of cooperation between the WHO and German organisations like the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) and the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Federal Foreign Office (AA) also contributed to WHO measures.

WHO relies on voluntary contributions

The WHO's programmes are funded through a combination of assessed and voluntary contributions. Each budget covers a two-year period.

Assessed contributions are based on a scale drawn up by the United Nations which applies to all countries. Assessment is based on a country's economic output. Based on this scale, Germany pays some 6.4 per cent of the budget. Over the two-year budget period the 194 WHO members are required to pay assessed contributions totalling 1 billion US dollars.

The total volume of the biennial budget currently amounts to some 4.4 billion US dollars. This shows that the total amount of the voluntary contributions exceeds that of the assessed contributions. Without the voluntary contributions – not only from individual countries but also from big foundations – the WHO would not be able to do most of its work.

Further, it is hard to predict how much money the WHO will need. Money needs to be available quickly in acute health crises. And they are not forecastable.

The objective of the World Health Organization (WHO) is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. The WHO supports member countries in implementing health programmes, it promotes medical research and provides vital supplies in emergencies.

The WHO was founded on 7 April 1948 as the coordinating authority for international public health within the United Nations system. It currently has 194 members.

The organisation's headquarters are in Geneva. It is divided into six regions which each have a Regional Office. There are also more than 140 Field Offices in countries, territories and areas. The WHO has more than 7,000 staff worldwide.

The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the decision-making body of the WHO. Delegations sent from all 194 member states take part in its annual meetings. The Executive Board comprising 34 government representatives manages the organisation in the periods between these meetings.

Friday, 5 January 2018