• The World Health Organization held a media briefing on 20 May to update the public on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
  • The agency shared plans for more flexible funding sources at Wednesday's regular press briefing.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials discussed plans for more flexible funding as the COVID-19 crisis hit a new milestone for cases reported in a single day and global infections edged toward 5 million.

Funding to the agency has been a hot topic as President Trump has threatened to permanently freeze US funding to the WHO. The US has historically been the WHO's largest donor, contributing up to 14% of the agency's financing in some years.

WHO revenue in 2018, by source
WHO revenue in 2018, by source
Image: WHO

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained that the WHO had been re-evaluating its funding even before the COVID-19 pandemic, both to increase the amount of funding and the types of the funding at its disposal.

The WHO’s budget, the Director-General explained, is relatively small compared to its scope and impact. Its annual budget, he said, was similar to that of a medium-sized hospital in the developed world.

To best leverage these funds, flexibility will be key. The agency's funding comprises contributions from member states, which are flexible, and voluntary contributions earmarked for fixed purposes.

Whereas 40 years ago, 80% of the funding was flexible and could be used at the organization’s discretion, now that share has shrunk to 20%, he said.

Image: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

One path forward includes the development of a foundation that would provide new sources of funding and help the organization expand its donor base.

These plans are intended to not just mobilize funding, the Director-General said, but to expand and strengthen programs. “It’s not about more money and less money. It’s about programs or different priority areas.”

This week’s funding threat came as global infections from coronavirus have surpassed 5 million. In the 24 hours up to Wednesday evening, said the Director General, there have been 106,000 cases reported to the WHO – the most in a single day since the outbreak began.

“Health is not a cost,” said the Director-General. “It’s an investment.”