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WHO Seeks Corporate "Crisis Cash"

FILE PHOTO: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization arrives for the CHOGM in Kigali. Taken June 24, 2022
FILE PHOTO: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization arrives for the CHOGM in Kigali. Taken June 24, 2022

The World Health Organization is sourcing rapid response financing directly from companies to help tackle international crises, through the foundation it set up to bridge the shortfall from member states.

The WHO has a two-year budget of $5.8 billion but its financial independence has steadily declined.

Its 194 member states provide barely 16 percent of the organization's financing through membership fees.

The rest comes from voluntary contributions, of which 88 percent are "specified", meaning the money goes to projects earmarked by the donors.

The WHO Foundation -- set up in May 2020 as the UN health agency scrambled for resources to fight the Covid-19 pandemic -- was created to marshal new resources from business and philanthropists.

The foundation says it exists because the WHO lacks sufficient resources to fulfil its mandate.

The entity went live in January 2021, and aims to "mobilize more support for the WHO, from the public, from businesses, from philanthropists," its chief executive Anil Soni told AFP.

"No organization, no sector can solve the challenges that the world is facing alone," the 46-year-old American said.

The list of health crises currently being combated by the WHO includes Covid-19, the cholera outbreak in Haiti, the war in Ukraine, the devastating floods in Pakistan, monkeypox and attempts to get aid into Ethiopia's besieged Tigray region.

The foundation has raised $30 million since the start of 2021 -- money which has mainly been focused on supporting the WHO's emergency response to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine.

"Part of our job is to be a matchmaker, is to make sure that we can facilitate dialogue and share information," said Soni.

"So the WHO sees the benefit of working with the private sector, and the private sector sees the power of the WHO."

On September 22, the foundation announced the launch of the Health Emergencies Alliance partnership -- a vehicle for companies and philanthropists who want to support the WHO in tackling health emergencies on a regular basis.

The partnership, which is in its infancy, hopes to get financing to the front line swiftly and effectively.

"What we wanted to do was engage companies and give them an ability to more quickly respond to emergencies and also raise more flexible funding for the WHO," said Soni.

The French laboratory pharmaceutical giant Sanofi was the first to sign up, he said, with discussions ongoing with other companies.

Those who join the program will pay a set amount to the foundation each year, without the donation being earmarked for a particular situation.

And when a health emergency suddenly springs up, these companies will, within 24 hours, have the possibility of raising additional resources for the response, from their clients, employees and the company itself, capitalizing while the emotion on breaking disasters is still strong.