THE GENEVA HEALTH FILES INTERVIEW: Björn Kümmel, Vice-Chair, WHO Executive Board

Björn Kümmel, Deputy Head of Unit, Global Health, German Federal Ministry of Health and Vice Chair of the WHO Executive Board. Image credit: C Black, WHO.

It is essential to realize, that today, the vast majority of financial resources (currently roughly 83 %) are contributed on a voluntary and largely unpredictable basis. These funds are provided and steered by a very limited number of generous individual donors on a purely voluntary basis. These donors decide, for which concrete goals WHO may use the funding, and they are free to withdraw the funding as they please. This financial dependency on a very limited number of key donors is seen as one of the key risks for WHO as this leads also to political dependency. Some argue that WHO is often used by donors like an implementing agency, implementing the goals that are a priority for the generous donors.

It is important to understand: When WHO’s programme budget is being approved by the 194 Member States, it is a largely unfunded budget. The only financing source that is purely certain is the 17 % share of the assessed contributions and some already secured grant agreements by voluntary donors. Therefore, WHO has to raise the vast majority of the needed finances after the approval of the programme budget.

It is clear, that this will be a lengthy and very complex endeavour. However, the COVID-19 crisis may serve for a new political understanding among the entire membership of WHO, that more sustainable investments are needed to enable WHO to fulfil its mandated role.

While this transparency is a great merit as it allows for full inclusiveness and at least theoretically ensures that the Assembly is well prepared through a consensual process, some argue that this setting sometimes limits the interaction in between the original members of the Executive Board. This leads to reading out only prepared statements and thus reduces the role of the Executive Board to serve as an exclusive steering board.

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