European Union Calls for Reforms at the WHO

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The European Union (EU) wants the World Health Organization (WHO) to become more open about how countries report health crises. That information comes from a proposal on reforming the WHO.

The German government wrote up the proposal following discussions with other EU member states. It is the latest EU plan to deal with the United Nations health agency’s problems with financing, governance and legal powers.

EU health ministers are to discuss the proposal at a video conference, which starts on Sunday.

The WHO has been criticized for how it dealt with the novel coronavirus as it spread from China to Europe, the United States and other countries. Health experts say the virus has infected over 40 million people worldwide since the start of the year. It is blamed for 1.1 million deaths.

Reuters news agency examined the document, which is dated October 19, 2020. It urges the WHO to take measures that would increase “transparency on national compliance” with International Health Regulations. These rules require WHO member states to quickly share information on health emergencies.

The EU document also urges the UN agency to change its method for informing countries about health emergencies. It calls for creation of a “traffic light system” that would signal the seriousness of a health crisis.

The United States has accused the WHO of being too close to China at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In December and January, the Chinese government was slow in sharing important information on the newly identified coronavirus.

President Donald Trump has said the United States will cancel its membership in the U.N. agency and stop its funding as a result. The U.S. government is the largest donor to the WHO.

The EU would become the top donor if the U.S. withdraws from the UN agency.

The WHO has repeatedly dismissed criticism of its actions during the COVID-19 health crisis. Reuters noted that the WHO did not immediately answer requests for comment on the EU proposal.

Asked about the document on Thursday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said China wanted to “actively participate” in WHO reforms. He added that such reforms should not serve the interests of any one country.

The Chinese official said any changes should “better remove political interference” from the WHO. He also said the reforms should increase the agency’s funding and ability to deal with public health crises, and strengthen support for developing countries.

The German government refused to comment on the document.

WHO chief call crisis a “wake up call”

Preparations for a study of the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the WHO and governments have been continuing for months. Germany has repeatedly urged other EU members to speed up that process so that a reform could be discussed.

Reuters notes that EU health ministers already agreed on a common position on WHO reforms at a meeting in early October.

The report said Germany wanted a “much more ambitious” plan than many other states would have accepted.

At that meeting, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Gheybreyesus told EU ministers the pandemic “should be seen as a wake-up call.” He added that the agency was considering how its rules were applied by member states.

I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.

Francesco Guarascio and Andreas Rinke reported this story for Reuters. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

transparency –n. the quality that makes something clear and easy to understand

compliance –n. the act or process of doing what is required by rule, law or order

pandemic –n. to fast spread of an infectious disease over a large geographical area

participate –v. to be involved with others in doing something, to take part in an activity

handle – v. to deal with; to take steps to deal with a situation

ambitious –adj. not easily done, requiring a desire for success

apply – v. to make a request or appeal

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