The EU-draft resolution which was co-sponsored by EU member states and Australia finally saw the support of close to 140 member states, including China, before it was adopted on Tuesday at the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA).
The resolution seeks to establish the origins of the novel coronavirus as well as initiate an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” on the response of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the coronavirus crisis.
The agenda of the WHA’s first-ever virtual session was to discuss and adopt the resolution in finding a way to battle the global health pandemic that has claimed over 3,00,000 lives and infected 4.8 million people worldwide.
The resolution, initially proposed by some 60 countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Russia South Africa, the European Union and its member states, Turkey and the UK, was finally backed by more than 120 members, people familiar with the development said.
In the concluding session, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “I will initiate an evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment. We welcome any initiative to strengthen global health security and to strengthen WHO. The World Health Organisation remains fully committed to transparency, accountability & continuous improvement.”
Interestingly, while China endorsed the resolution, the United States did not object to the adoption but gave a written explanation of its position regarding the Covid-19 response resolution.
“China has co-sponsored the draft resolution backed by 120 countries. We hope the draft resolution can be adopted by consensus at the 73rd WHA and will be implemented accurately and comprehensively,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during the daily briefing on Tuesday.
While the US applauded the call for an “impartial, independent, and comprehensive review of the WHO’s response”, it disassociated itself from the language in some areas of the resolution related to “access to abortion” and language in the “World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) and the Doha Declaration of 2001”
“We do not accept references to “sexual and reproductive health,” or other languages that suggests or explicitly states that access to abortion is included in the provision of population and individual level health services,” the written statement said.
It added, “We are concerned that a misinterpretation of international trade obligations in non-WTO multilateral fora may negatively affect countries’ abilities to incentivize new drug development and expand access to medicines.”
The resolution has called on the WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to “continue to work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and countries, as part of the One-Health Approach to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts.”
This comes a day after US President Donald Trump put the WHO DG on a 30-day notice seeking action within that time period for Washington DC to resume funding of the world health body.
Tuesday’s resolution at the WHO assembly — which is not binding and mentioned no countries by name — also called for nations to commit to ensuring “transparent, equitable and timely access” to any treatments or vaccines developed against Covid-19.
INDIA TO CHAIR THE EXECUTIVE BOARD
The WHA also elected ten new member states in the executive board of the WHO. India was one of the ten nations to join the executive board of the World Health Organisation for a period of three years.
The other new members include Botswana, Colombia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Oman, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
The WHO Executive Board comprising 34 individuals holds two meetings annually — the first one in January and a shorter meeting in May — immediately after the World Health Assembly.
At the 147th session of the executive board on May 22, the election of the chair, vice-chairs, and rapporteurs will take place. India will take over as chairperson. Currently, Dr. Hiroki Nakatani of Japan is the Chairman of the WHO Executive Board.
Taiwan did not make it as an observer to the World Health Assembly. While Beijing managed to keep Taipei out of this assembly, the newly elected President of WHA, Keva Bain announced on Monday that adopting the proposal for the supplementary agenda seeking “inclusion of Taiwan to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer”, will be considered in the resumed session later this year.
But that did not stop countries from bickering over the issue.
Two African countries made a strong pitch for Taiwan to be included as an observer to the WHA. The Caribbean country of Saint Kitts and Nevis complimented Taiwan on its handling of the coronavirus crisis.
But the statements made by the US and China on Monday led to both the countries exercising their ‘Right of Reply’ on Tuesday.
In response to the US health secretary’s remarks that exclusion of Taiwan was putting the lives of millions of Taiwanese at risk at the cost of politics, the Chinese representative said, “China solemnly protests and firmly opposes this behaviour. It has been proven, the so-called gap in the international epidemic prevention in Taiwan is a purely political pretext that is doomed to fail. Our top priority is to untie and save lives. We continuously support the WHO’s leading role. We hope that some countries can step up cooperation with the international community in a responsible manner so as to jointly defeat the pandemic.”
Responding to China, the US Representative on Monday said, “In reaction to statement by China, we join countless others in the international community who have called on the WHO to extend an invitation to Taiwan to the WHA.”