Lancet: Offline: WHO powers up in 2019

4 January, 2019

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, writes a weekly column called Offline in The Lancet. It is always worth reading. Below are extracts from this week's column. The full text is freely available here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)30004-2/fulltext?dgcid=raven_jbs_etoc_email

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When Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus opened the first Global Burden of Disease Forum at the agency's Geneva headquarters last month... the audience also heard Dr Tedros deliver a passionate vision for a greatly strengthened WHO. “If we are serious about serving humanity, we need collaboration and partnership”, he said. Dr Tedros argued that WHO should not be afraid of an increasingly pluralistic institutional landscape in global health. It should not even be afraid of outsourcing some of WHO's core functions. “Pluralism in global health leadership strengthens WHO.” What counts is shared responsibility, while WHO focuses on its key roles—convening, coordinating, and guiding... His idea for a more muscular WHO is nothing short of a revolution for the agency.

Dr Tedros argued that all nations have “fault lines” in their health systems. A partnership with the Global Burden of Disease “will help WHO go global”. The fact that the Global Burden of Disease produces data for all countries will increase “the relevance of WHO in all countries”. The collaboration with IHME will have a profound effect on WHO: it will “change it beyond all recognition”. The goal of WHO is “to serve the world”. So “why can't we comment on high-income countries?” “Why do we keep quiet when there is a problem in a high-income country?” “WHO can advise. WHO can take that responsibility”. “We only go to high-income countries to ask for money. We need to change that relationship”. “That's what IHME means to me”. “We don't need to centralise everything at WHO”. The memorandum between WHO and IHME is “an opportunity to understand the power of partnership”...

The Global Burden of Disease can strengthen WHO by providing some of the most reliable data for the agency to use in its proposed country consultations. WHO can translate the results of the Global Burden of Disease into sound technical assistance... WHO will soon announce far-reaching organisational reforms. The intention is to reinvent the agency to enable it to deliver its triple billion strategy. Could 2019 be WHO's year of rebirth?

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Comment (NPW): HIFA is proud of our growing association with WHO, notably our formal collaborationns to administer HIFA-French, HIFA-Spanish and HIFA-Portuguese as well as technical support on the HIFA Steering Group and hundreds of WHO staff among the HIFA members and HIFA working groups - from HQ, regional and country offices. We look forward to playing our small part with WHO, The Lancet and others to help deliver WHO's triple billion strategy, UHC and the health SDGs. "If we are serious about serving humanity, we need collaboration and partnership."

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG /orcid.org/0000-0001-9557-1487 neil@hifa.org