EB 136 Tuesday January 28: WHO Engagement with Non-state Actors; US issues apology to the African Group

During Tuesday’s session of the WHO Executive Board, the board considered a proposal from Argentina on the table for a “Framework of Engagement with Non-state Actors.” Many states, both Board members and non-Executive Board member states, contributed to the discussion, citing the issue as a critical reform issue for the WHO. While a number of states took issue with some of the specifics of the draft proposal, for example that at current time all types of non-state actors were lumped together (i.e. NGOs and private companies all under the same umbrella), the room was largely in support of Argentina’s proposal.

As the issue of the exact wording of the proposal was mentioned repeatedly in member states’ interventions (while in the same breath offering support), Director-General Margaret Chan drew the topic to a close by calling on Argentina to spearhead the issue. Argentina was placed as in charge of refining the wording of the framework and was assigned a room and time slot to continue drafting the proposed framework that night, along with interested member states.

Following the decision on continuing to revise the draft of the the framework for engagement with non-state actors, the EB took up the topic of WHO reform implementation. The discussion on reform was lengthy, and the discussion lasted past the scheduled end time. While the calls for reform were strong, and concerns were varied, the most notable exchange concerned the US and South Africa.

In the morning’s appointment of new regional directors, the US spoke during the new African Regional Director’s confirmation, offering congratulations and words of support along with other states, however Tom Frieden (speaking for the US) also used the time to comment on the need for reform in the selection process and criteria for Regional Directors’ appointments.

During afternoon discussions of WHO reform, Precious Matsoso of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the entire Africa Group, gave an impassioned intervention about the time and place of discussions of reform (then being the time). Without specifying which country, Ms. Matsoso referred to the discussion of selection reform during the AFRO Regional Director’s appointment as a major offense and insult, and that it was perceived as a slight to the member states in region as well as to the new Regional Director herself.

In the next intervention delivered by Frieden, the US apologized at length for the offense. Frieden also apologized for any suggestion that the new Regional Director was not qualified and that his statement had been taken in such a manner.

The discussion on reforms continued from there, with DG Chan sharing the onus of reforming the WHO, stating “the changes begin with Member States’ behavior. We can try, but you have to too.”

Claire Cassedy