By George Russell
The World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations’ public health arm, is moving full speed ahead with a controversial plan to impose global consumer taxes on such things as Internet activity and everyday financial transactions like paying bills online — while its spending soars and its own financial house is in disarray.
The aim of its taxing plans is to raise “tens of billions” of dollars for WHO that would be used to radically reorganize the research, development, production and distribution of medicines around the world, with greater emphasis on drugs for communicable diseases in poor countries.
Fox News initially reported last January on the “suite of proposals” for “new and innovative sources of funding,” prepared by a 25-member panel of medical experts, academics and health care bureaucrats, when it was presented of a meeting of WHO’s 34-member Executive Board in Geneva.
Now the proposals are headed for the four-day annual meeting of the 193-member World Health Assembly, WHO’s chief legislative organ, which begins in Geneva on May 17.
The Health Assembly, a medical version of the United Nations General Assembly, will be invited to “take note” of the experts’ report. It will then head back with that passive endorsement to another Executive Board meeting, which begins May 22, for further action. It is the Executive Board that will “give effect” to the Assembly’s decisions.
What it all means is that a major lobbying effort could soon be underway to convince rich governments in particular to begin taxing citizens or industries to finance a drastic restructuring of medical research and development on behalf of poorer ones.
The scheme would leave WHO in the middle, helping to manage a “global health research and innovation coordination and funding mechanism,” as the experts’ report calls it.
In effect, the plan amounts to a pharmaceutical version of the U.N.-sponsored climate-change deal that failed to win global approval at Copenhagen last December. If implemented as the experts suggest, it could easily involve the same kind of wealth transfers as the failed Copenhagen summit, which will send $30 billion a year to poor nations, starting this year.
The WHO strategy involves a wide variety of actions to transfer “pharmaceutical-related technology,” and its production, along with intellectual property rights, to developing countries, according to a condensed “global strategy and plan of action” also being presented to the World Health Assembly.
Regional “networks for innovation” would be cultivated across the developing world, and some regions, such as Africa, would be encouraged to develop technology to exploit “traditional medicines.”
According to the condensed plan of action being presented to the Assembly, a number of those initiatives are already well under way.
Click here to read the plan of action.
Almost casually, the panel’s report notes that the fundraising effort would involve global changes in legal structures — and policing. As the report puts it: “Introducing a new tax or expanding an existing tax may require legal changes, nationally and internationally and ongoing regulation to ensure compliance.”
As a backup, the panel offers some less costly, voluntary alternatives, including “solidarity contributions” via mobile telephone usage, or set-asides on income taxes.
Yet another alternative: new health care contributions from countries such as China, India or Venezuela, or higher contributions from rich countries — neither idea looking likely in the current climate of international financial crisis. In the report’s words: “channeling these resources in this way can only be achieved if there is political will to do so and a convincing case is made.”
Click here to read the financing report.
In foggy bureaucratic language, they declare that “a change that is too swift and radical will be disruptive to the entire function of the Organization or fail because of an insurmountable accumulation of practical problems of execution.”
Translation: the WHO bureaucracy won’t easily cooperate.