The COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions about WHO’s authority to challenge states during serious outbreaks. In light of this statement, critically discuss the role of WHO as a global health leader. 

Model Answer

WHO is a specialized agency of UN responsible for international public health. The objective of the Organization is to ensure the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the controversies associated with it have raised questions about the credibility of WHO as a global health leader.

WHO: failed to exercise global health leadership

  1. Failed to Challenge sovereignty
  • The International Health Regulations (IHR), adopted by WHO member states in 2005, authorizes WHO to collect disease related information for other sources, seek verification from governments about such information.
  • WHO failed to act on information it had from other sources. It also failed to share that information with other countries.

Became a tool of Chinese politics

  • WHO director praised China for the speed with which it detected the outbreak and lauded China for its transparency.

Confused and delayed initial response

  • Initially, the organization opposed travel ban and maintained that masks to be used by only those with symptoms.
  • In the mid-January 2020, it reiterated its stand that human-to-human transmission had not been proved.

Failed to ensure a human-rights approach to health

  • WHO is the leading guardian in ensuring human-rights approach to health.
  • Questions were raised about WHO’s silence in the face of the human rights consequences of harsh government responses, such as mandatory quarantine and isolation measures.

WHO: Successfully handled the pandemic

  • WHO deployed scientific skills, epidemiological expertise, medical know-how, outbreak-response capacities in the fight against COVID-19.
  • The organization’s sharing of information and its attempts to counter online misinformation and disinformation have earned widespread praise.
  • The medical and public health expertise that WHO offered to countries to combat COVID-19 is appreciated.
  • It gathered information, collaborated with laboratories and was successful in devising standard tests and protocols for managing the disease.
  • It raised approximately $175 million to find a cure.
  • It created a COVAX facility which ensured a collaborative approach towards vaccine development and its equitable distribution.


  • WHO is providing its leadership in global health more through its scientific, medical, and public health capabilities than its authority to challenge states politically under the IHR.
  • However, the pandemic offers an opportunity to reform the WHO by providing it more financial resources as well as greater autonomy.

Subjects : Current Affairs