Swiss minister calls for WHO reforms to be ‘accelerated’

Alain Berset was talking at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva Keystone

World Health Organization (WHO) reforms must be speeded up to build a stronger, more unified health body, Switzerland’s health minister declared on Monday.

This content was published on May 23, 2016 minutes and agencies

“Switzerland believes it is essential to accelerate and implement reforms to exploit the WHO’s lead role more efficiently,” Alain Berset told the annual gathering of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, in Geneva on Monday.

A stronger and more unified organisation is needed to tackle health challenges such as the Zika virus, mental health and the research and development of medicines, he added.

“We must strengthen synergies between humanitarian, development and health actors,” said the Swiss minister.

This year, Switzerland is focusing its attention on the fight against dementia.

“There are 25 countries with a dementia national plan of action but we need a bigger programme which includes all WHO members,” said Berset, adding that all countries around the world were affected, not just those in Europe.

Good governance

Governance at the WHO is also a priority for the Swiss.

“We've been working on it for a long time and our message is one of strong support for reform,” said Berset.

The WHO is under pressure to improve the way it operates, streamlining its complex and unwieldly structure, governance and financing to make it more efficient. Critics say progress has been too slow to carry out the necessary deep reforms to allow the WHO to show clear leadership in promoting health and to respond decisively to disease emergencies that can affect many nations.

Calls for change have been building. Last year, in the face of accusations it overreacted to the 2009-10 H1N1 flu pandemic, the WHO was criticised for not responding quick enough to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Questions are now being asked about its response to the Zika virus.

Despite criticism, Berset said the WHO is the only organisation able to offer an adequate response to today’s global public health challenges.

He told he was optimistic that ongoing discussions on reforms could be ‘resolved’ this week.

“Today we are at a much more advanced stage than two to three years ago,” he said. “But it's an environment where you need to convince people and explain and bring people together. It's a situation which requires solid consensus.” 

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