Co-written by Thi Thuy Van Dinh

WHO does plan to reduce sovereignty

Democracies and sane societies are built on rationalism and honesty. They may not always exhibit this, but these values must underpin major decisions. Without them, neither democracy nor justice are sustainable. They are replaced by a structure in which a few dictate to the many, and the excesses of feudalism, slavery or fascism rise to dominance. This is why so many fought so hard, for so long, in defence of these ideals. People in democratic countries then elect representatives to the privileged position of guardians of their freedom.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is promoting a pandemic treaty (‘CA+’), and amendments to the existing International Health Regulations (IHR), to increase its power during health emergencies. These proposals also broaden the scope of emergencies to include potential rather than actual harm. The draft treaty suggests a definition of ‘One Health’ that encompasses any occurrence in the biosphere that could impact human wellbeing. This decision-making power will be placed in the hands of a single person, the WHO Director General. WHO will require countries to sign on to these agreements to suppress and censor the voices of those who question the Director General’s dictates. 

The two proposals, detailed elsewhere, aim to expand an international bureaucracy for health emergencies, with an additional annual budget estimated by the World Bank at three times the WHO’s current budget. This programme is heavily backed by WHO’s major individual and corporate sponsors, entities that will directly benefit from the commodity-centred responses that are proposed. However, it will be mainly funded by taxpayers.

This is a new model for WHO and for public health. WHO was originally intended to serve countries, not instruct them. The proposals aim to reduce individual and national decision-making power, or sovereignty, replacing this with obedience to WHO’s recommendations. When the WHO Director General recently suggested that the above was untrue, he was not reflecting WHO’s proposals, but a separate, public messaging campaign. In WHO’s parlance, he was ‘spreading misinformation’.

Individual sovereignty and human rights were once central to public health. These concepts are commonly exercised through elected representatives, and through retention of each person’s inalienable right to make decisions regarding their own body. Anti-fascist agreements such as the Nuremberg code are based on this understanding. These alone are compelling reasons to oppose these WHO proposals. But there are other reasons why these proposals are both ridiculous and dangerous.

Developing a drug cartel 

Much of WHO’s funding comes from private and corporate sponsors who specify how their money will be used. The companies are responsible to their shareholders to use this relationship to increase profits, whilst individual sponsors are directly invested in companies who will gain from WHO’s health emergency proposals. We saw this during Covid-19.

A lack of interest from major media, who derive most of their private advertising revenue from the same companies, should not be taken as a reason to ignore this issue. WHO’s sponsors seek to benefit from  WHO seizing control of potentially profitable aspects of health from representative governments, so that their products can be mandated for use more broadly, and more often.

The system proposed by WHO will put in place a global health bureaucracy quite different from that traditionally sustained by WHO

Undoing democracy

It is right and fair that all countries should be represented at the World Health Assembly. However, much of the world’s population lives under authoritarian governments and military dictatorships. The current WHO Director General was a minister in a dictatorial government. This is fine for an organisation that convenes meetings and names diseases. But it is obviously inappropriate for a democratic country to cede authority over its own citizens to such an entity, and to unaccountable international officials subject to conflicts of interest, influences and biases. 

Public health responses should depend entirely on a population’s own values and priorities, not those of foreign dictators or their appointees. It would be stupid to give control to those espousing quite opposite values.

Obvious incompetence

Before entrusting one’s health to others, it is essential to know that they are competent. Despite having existing evidence-based guidelines for pandemics in place, WHO lost the plot disastrously with Covid-19. It supported policies that have worsened malnutrition and diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and the consequences of malnutrition. Its policies promoted increased debt and poverty, locking in poorer health for the next generation, whilst increasing child labour and facilitating the rape of millions of girls forced into child marriage. Formal education has been denied to hundreds of millions of children. Sick elderly people were unable to get care, while healthy people were confined at home. They have promoted the largest upward concentration of wealth in history, and consequent mass impoverishment.

For the past two years, WHO has embarked on a project to mass-vaccinate 70% of African populations, despite half the population being under 20 years of age, and thus at minimal risk, and WHO’s own study showing that the vast majority had already had Covid-19. This programme is the most expensive per year ever promoted by WHO. And now WHO is seeking powers that will enable them to repeat these types of responses, often.

Disdain for human rights

Countries adopting the proposed IHR amendments will accept WHO’s recommendations as obligatory. The list covered in the IHR includes border closures and refusal of individual travel, isolation of ‘suspect’ persons, required medical examinations and vaccination, exit screening, and the requirement of proof of testing. These measures will be imposed on a country’s own citizens when an individual in this organisation, which is sponsored by large multinational corporations and wealthy investors, decides independently that an undefined health ‘threat’ poses a risk to other countries.

There are no clear criteria for ‘risk’, and no need to demonstrate harm, for this draconian removal of basic human rights to be imposed. The WHO Director General will not even have to consult and obtain wider consent. Other initiatives are underway to ensure that the required vaccinations will not even need to undergo normal safety testing. There has been no soul-searching regarding the devastation caused to individuals and economies by similar policies implemented during Covid-19. Rather, WHO and partners are claiming increased urgency, using irrelevant outbreaks such as Monkeypox to justify their haste. This is community-driven health, and post World War II human rights, turned upside down.

A self-perpetuating funding black hole

The system proposed by WHO will put in place a global health bureaucracy quite different from that traditionally sustained by WHO. The organisation will assess biennially each country’s readiness to respond to rare events, and demand rectification. Intensive surveillance will find the new virus variants that always evolve in nature. Rather than allowing these variants to fade away unnoticed, this bureaucracy will sequence them, name them, decide they pose a threat, and institute the society- and economy-wrecking measures they have honed since 2020. 

Although WHO recorded just one mild ‘pandemic’ per generation over the past 100 years, this system makes the proclamation of frequent emergencies inevitable. Such ‘success’ will be essential justification to maintain funding. The response will include lockdowns and border closures, and then mass testing and vaccination “to escape these lockdowns and save the economy”. Media will sell breaking news, counting infections and available hospital beds, whilst offering no context; health departments will tout essential workers as heroes at international, regional and national levels. Covid-19 established this model. 

In a country with a functioning constitutional democracy, a system based on such perverse incentives would not be allowed. But WHO does not operate under any national jurisdiction, or answer directly to any population. It does not have to endure the negative impacts of its dictates. It is prioritising its sponsors’ needs, and seeking to impose them on distant others. If it is to take this funding, and pay its staff salaries, it has no choice.

Being realistic about health

WHO is not the organisation it was 40 years ago. Based on disease burden (i.e. what maims and kills people), the big killers of humanity, apart from old age, are the non-communicable diseases (e.g. most cancers, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and other metabolic diseases), infectious diseases (e.g. tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria), and the many maladies arising from childhood malnutrition. By comparison, pandemics have taken a minimal toll on humanity in the past century. Uninhibited by such realities, WHO still considers Covid-19 (with an average age of death over 75 years), and even monkeypox (with fewer than 100 deaths globally) to be international emergencies. WHO’s funding arrangements, its track record, and the perverse nature of its proposed pandemic response should be enough to render these proposed agreements anathema to democratic states. If implemented, they should make WHO unfit to receive public funding or provide health advice. The international community can benefit from coordination in health, but it would be reckless to entrust that role to an organisation clearly serving other interests.

Thi Thuy Van Dinh (LLM, PhD) worked on international law in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Subsequently, she has managed multilateral organisation partnerships for Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund, and led environmental health technology development efforts for low-resource settings.

The post Why legislators should reject WHO’s proposals for pandemics first appeared on PANDA.


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