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The World Health Organization makes a case for itself

The seal of the WHO
REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
The seal of the WHO.
  • Annabelle Timsit
By Annabelle Timsit

Geopolitics reporter

Published Last updated

The World Health Organization (WHO) had a plan for this. If only somebody had listened.

In 2005—about 15 years before the novel coronavirus emerged—the global public health agency adopted a revision to a set of regulations that had guided its approach to disease control and prevention since 1969. In the new legally-binding framework, 196 countries committed to face together any future “illness or medical condition, irrespective of origin or source, that presents or could present significant harm to humans.” Under this new system, countries agreed to strengthen their public health capacities and notify the WHO of any such illness in their populations. The WHO would be the centralized body for all countries facing a health threat, with the power to declare a “public health emergency of international concern,” issue recommendations, and work with countries to tackle a crisis.

Faced with the sudden and deadly spread of Covid-19, however, the world largely refused to follow these guidelines. Countries imposed travel restrictions against the WHO’s recommendations. Some refused to share their data with the organization. Others banned the export of medical equipment, even in the face of global shortages.

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