The world of health gathered in Geneva on Ukraine and the pandemic

“Health for peace” is at the center of the first face-to-face meeting of the 194 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) since the start of the pandemic. Even as hundreds of assaults have been perpetrated against health centers in Ukraine.

Several heads of state and government and around 120 ministers are attending the meeting. In front of them, the head of the Federal Department of the Interior (DFI) denounced “unacceptable acts” against civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).

And to call on all States and parties to conflicts to honor the rules by protecting the wounded, the sick and the medical personnel. Faced with the “devastating consequences” of the war in Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the role of the WHO for civilians.

Targeted by a recent WHO Europe resolution, Russia remains a member and participates in the conference. At this stage, a request for suspension does not appear in the draft resolution which will condemn the situation in Ukraine and which the French president has called for support.

Decision on a Swiss initiative

For its part, Switzerland is more broadly committed to health and peace. Bern and Oman have launched an initiative for several years to make health an important component for peace in emerging conflicts or post-conflict periods. A decision on this will be taken at the Meeting.

Besides the war in Ukraine, the strengthening of global health to prepare for the next pandemics will be widely discussed until next Saturday in Geneva. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that the number of new Covid cases is increasing in nearly 70 countries. “We still cannot anticipate the intensity” of the pandemic, he added, calling on governments to be ready to relaunch restrictions.

“Global health continues to face challenges like never before,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. For Switzerland, the organization must remain “the center of global health governance”. And even that its role is extended.

The WHO had been criticized in particular by several important players on its reaction to the arrival of the coronavirus. It “needs global support and investment,” Mr. Guterres also said.

Sanitary device under discussion

In December, an intergovernmental negotiating group, of which Switzerland is a member, was established with a view to an international agreement in the face of pandemics. For the moment, only organizational matters have been discussed. The arrangement is expected to be finalized in 2024.

The World Health Assembly must consider continuing efforts to revise the International Health Regulations. This is part of the response to public health emergencies, but has been widely targeted since the arrival of the coronavirus.

Mr. Berset recalled that Switzerland supports these two approaches. For Berne, a future agreement should not replace the Regulations. The first must be broader on issues such as the sharing of vaccines, while the second must remain more focused on health security, according to Switzerland.

In the meantime, a Permanent Emergency Committee to the Executive Council, which can be activated within 24 hours in the event of an international health emergency, must be decided during the Assembly. Mr. Macron launched a vibrant support for this device.

Support for more sustainable financing

On the funding side, the share of mandatory contributions, at 20% of the organization’s 5.8 billion francs, could be increased to 50% within ten years. According to Mr. Berset, “we have understood, collectively, the need to have a strong WHO”, equipped with appropriate means and authority to prepare for and respond to pandemics.

Mr. Tedros is to be reappointed on Tuesday for a second term, being the only candidate. After a wave of Ebola, he will have been confronted with the pandemic, the most serious epidemic in a century which has claimed at least around 15 million victims, and with several conflicts, in particular in Ethiopia, his country.

On the verge of tears on Sunday, he denounced the effects of the war, which he himself had to face. With the anticipation of epidemics, the strengthening of the WHO will be one of the projects of his probable next mandate.