The World Health Assembly meets in Geneva with an agenda that includes U.S. proposals to amend the International Health Regulations - the legal framework set up to identify and respond to international health emergencies.
Kathy Bergin, professor of disaster law at Cornell Law School, is an expert on the workings of the World Health Organization.
“The proposals aim to address shortcomings in the global response to coronavirus and are far-reaching in some respects. But in no way do they surrender ‘sovereign authority’ to the WHO or allow for a WHO take-over of U.S. lawmaking in the event of a pandemic, as some politicians have said.
“Member states are already expected to comply with WHO recommendations during an international emergency – though in truth, there’s not much the WHO itself can do to encourage states to act beyond diplomacy or ‘naming and shaming.’
“The amendments aren’t perfect. Some have argued that the emphasis on pandemic response could come at the expense of local initiatives to shore-up basic health capacities, and that affected states should be consulted before the director general declares an international health emergency. Other provisions feed into global health inequality by allowing pharmaceutical companies to profit off information being shared by under-resourced countries, without any reciprocal benefit to those countries in terms of access to testing, treatment, or vaccine developments. Should these issues be addressed – absolutely. Do these proposals surrender U.S. sovereignty to the WHO – absolutely not.”