World Health Organization needs ‘major reform,’ says professor

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The World Health Organization (WHO) needs major reform to regain its leadership as a trusted provider of scientific and technical knowledge, according to Barry Bloom, Jack and Joan Jacobson professor of public health at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), who has been associated with WHO in various capacities for 44 years.

Bloom, a former HSPH dean, recently wrote a commentary, “WHO Needs Change,” that appeared in the journal Nature. He was invited by Nature to write the article after the journal Foreign Policy recently published an article by Jack Chow titled “Is the WHO Becoming Irrelevant.”

A United Nations agency created in 1948 to direct and coordinate international health work, WHO is increasingly ineffective and facing a fiscal crisis as it now competes with thousands of other agencies, nonprofits and private sector groups that have since sprouted up, Bloom wrote. In some cases, these newer groups are more effective in targeting global public health issues. For example, WHO’s slow and inadequate response to the recent Haiti’s cholera epidemic and slow pace of funding projects or approving drugs and vaccines are among the reasons why the agency has come under attack in recent years for being “ineffective, bureaucratic and politi­cal … and for lacking modern scientific and technical expertise,” he wrote.