Dear GHC Community,
The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light many of the cracks in the existing global health infrastructure. At the same time, it demonstrated the benefits of multilateral organizations — driving cross-country collaboration, leveraging technical leadership and expertise, and supporting under-resourced health systems. Without the coordinating power of the World Health Organization (WHO), there would have been far more incoherence in efforts, duplication, and waste. While not perfect nor without missteps, we could not have reached this point in the pandemic without organizations like WHO, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, and UNICEF. Through their collective expertise and coordinating power, the world was able to stand up the ACT Accelerator and, through it, COVAX. As a result, 5.17 billion people — nearly 70% of the world’s population — have received vaccines to date.*
While COVID-19 is a daily reminder of the value multilateral organizations provide, that value is far from assured without continued support. Multilateral institutions are a collective resource in helping to protect the health of the world’s citizens; they require collective support to accomplish shared global health goals. The past several years have been a poignant reminder of how vital they are to safeguarding the world against disease.
To operate effectively, multilaterals require ongoing partnership and resources from the U.S. and other countries. We saw historic progress on this at last week’s 75th World Health Assembly. Member states agreed to a WHO working group recommendation to gradually increase their “assessed contributions” — or membership dues — to cover 50% of WHO’s budget by 2030. In addition, U.S. support for health multilateral organizations is critical to leveraging resources from other countries and to facilitating cross-country collaboration. By leveraging the support of donors like the U.S., multilateral institutions protect the world against public health threats and help countries prevent, treat, and protect their citizens.
But the decisions made through these entities must not solely be left to donors. Without the involvement of civil society, global health approaches are little more than a “best guess.” It is civil society organizations (CSOs) that are, in overused parlance, where the rubber meets the road. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, CSOs have played a critical role in addressing and advocating for the needs of minority and marginalized populations. Yet, they continue to be left out of crucial policy-making discussions surrounding the response. To truly deliver on the promise of multilateral organizations, CSOs must not just be at the table, they should be taking the lead as strategies are discussed.
Multilaterals institutions are imperfect, but the old cliché rings true: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” These organizations provide an inordinate amount of good for the world. They can and should strive to continually improve operations and outcomes through structural changes and, where needed, reforms. And it is our job to keep them accountable. But this can be done on a parallel track to their ongoing work of sharing information across countries and regions, advancing innovation to accelerate the elimination and eradication of diseases, and contributing to new solutions and health improvements.
Multilateral organizations possess different strengths and networks and can serve as meaningful partners to advance efforts toward improved outcomes. Moving past the worst pandemic in nearly a century requires a new level of global cooperation. We must not only move past COVID-19 but also regain the ground lost in other health areas in order to meet shared global goals. Without continued financial and technical support for multilateral organizations, none of this will be possible.
Read more about Global Health Council’s four priorities in 2022 here.
All the best,