The World Health Organization (WHO) was founded in 1948 and currently has 194 member states. Based in Geneva, it is one of the autonomous specialised agencies of the United Nations (UN) and is responsible for the coordination of public health at international level.
The WHO is financed on the one hand by assessed contributions (AC), the regular contributions of the member states, and on the other hand by voluntary contributions (VC).
In the meantime, the AC only accounts for about 20% of the total financing of the WHO, and many countries do not meet their payments.
VCs are provided by some Member States in addition to their ACs, as well as by “other partners”. Depending on how flexibly WHO can manage these funds, they are divided into 3 categories:
The Core Voluntary Contributions (CVC) can be used completely freely by the WHO for its needs. Their share of the VC is 3.9%.
Thematic and strategic engagement funds are more aligned with the donor’s needs and allow less leeway in terms of allocation, representing 6% of VC.
Specified voluntary contributions, which account for 90.1% of VCs, are highly earmarked, limited to one area or geographical location and must be completed within a specified timeframe.
The last two categories thus represent about three quarters of the total budget, a circumstance that in recent years has repeatedly raised doubts about the independence of the WHO, since the donors (rich states, NGOs and pharmaceutical companies) have more or less a lot of influence on how these donations are used.
For the period 2017/18, for example, Bill Gates and his two foundations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the GAVI Alliance, ranked third and fourth in VC behind the USA and the UK, with USD 455 million and USD 389 million respectively. Together, this amounts to almost 20% of the WHO’s total budget.
Luxembourg and the WHO
It can be said that Luxembourg has the best relations with the WHO. Luxembourg ranks 9th in the CVC and also supports various WHO projects such as the WHO Health Emergencies Programme (WHE) as well as its polio eradication efforts.
Funding received USD million
UK and Northern Ireland
Estate of Mrs Edith Christina Ferguson
The Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Minister of Economy, Franz Fayot, on 18 June 2020, which commits Luxembourg to support the Thirteenth General Programme of Work, 2019-2023, also fits seamlessly into this philosophy.
The Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) is also one of the 3 WHO regional reference laboratories for measles and rubella in the EU.
Finally, Luxembourg is chairing Tropical Disease Research (TDR) from 2020 to 2022, and is supporting the WHO special programme for this period with around €700,000. We will return to this in a future article.
The WHO has a constitution which, among other things, defines its objectives and administrative functioning. As far as the influence of the organisation on the member states is concerned, Articles 19 to 23 are particularly decisive.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) can establish conventions or agreements by a two-thirds majority, which are then legally binding for the Member States (Article 19).
They each have 18 months to accept or reject these agreements. If accepted, they are then binding (Articles 20 and 22).
According to Article 21, the WHO is empowered to enact regulations, among others, regarding
Sanitary and quarantine measures that prevent the international spread of infectious diseases.
Definition of diseases, causes of death and public health practices
Standardisation of diagnostic procedures
Safety standards for pharmaceutical products
Finally, according to Article 23, the WHO can make recommendations to the member states within its area of competence.
In the Règlement grand-ducal of 18 March 2020, for example, in which the initial Covid-19 measures were defined, the WHO was referenced accordingly in the introductory text:
[…] Considering that the so-called “Coronavirus”, referred to as “Covid-19” and declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation …
Whereas the World Health Organisation insists in its recommendations to limit contact between individuals in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 […]
This was therefore “only” a recommendation, whereby the individual states still have a certain amount of leeway when it comes to implementation. However, in the event of a pandemic, this should not remain the case in the future.
Global accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response
On 1 December 2021, the WHA announced its intention to develop an internationally legally binding agreement, in line with Article 19 of the WHO Constitution, that would improve prevention, preparedness and response in the context of a pandemic.
Since its creation in 1948, Article 19 has only been used once before, at the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005.
With this new contract, the planned dates for implementation are:
1 March 2022: Mode of operation and timeline planning
1 August 2022: Discussion of the progress of the working draft
2023: Progress report at the 76th WHA
2024: Presentation of results for consideration at the 77th WHA
The Council of the European Union has now also decided to open negotiations on this on 3 March: the EU Commission can thus begin its work and negotiate the treaty on behalf of the EU according to the Council’s guidelines.
Even if the WHO presents this agreement as a considerable added value for all parties involved, this development is perceived by various critics rather as a threat: if the treaty were to be adopted, it would stand above the constitutions of the Member States, so the WHO could, for example, prescribe lockdowns and/or compulsory vaccination in the event of a pandemic, which would then directly become applicable national law.
In some countries, resistance is already stirring: in Austria, the Scientific Initiative Health for Austria e.V. has written an open letter to the WHO, as has the international World Council for Health.
In Luxembourg, this WHO initiative is not a topic of discussion in the media or in politics. RTL merely worked through the issue with a “fact check” in response to a Twitter post by Prof. Christian Perrone. The title of the article was highly misleading and the content essentially consisted of pointing out that member countries still had the right to reject the treaty.
However, due to the acceptance by the Council of the European Union alone, it can be assumed that the WHO would hardly have initiated this treaty if there was no real chance of it being implemented by a majority of the member states.
International gateway for digital vaccination certificates
Without it being announced by the WHO itself, Deutsche Telekom announced that its subsidiary T-Systems had been commissioned by the World Health Organisation to develop a so-called gateway that would enable the international verification of QR codes of vaccination certificates.
T-Systems had previously developed the platform for the EU Digital COVID Certificate and the European Federation Gateway Service (EFGS) in cooperation with SAP, the latter enabling electronic contact tracing across national borders.
The new project emphasises transparency and data protection. For example, as with the EU Digital COVID Certificate, the source code of the application will be accessible to everyone on the developer platform Github.
In this way, the WHO wants to “facilitate the introduction of digital vaccination certificates” for its 194 member states. The details of how it envisages these vaccination certificates were already specified on 27 August 2021. A brief analysis already shows that in the longer term these certificates are not to be limited to the Covid 19 pandemic, nor to the data on vaccinations carried out. For example, we read in the summary:
The current document is written for the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic; thus, the approach is architected to respond to the evolving science and to the immediate needs of countries in this rapidly changing context; for this reason, the document is issued as interim guidance. The approach could eventually be extended to capture vaccination status to protect against other diseases.
The glossary defines the personal data to be stored (“personal data”):
Any information relating to an individual who is or can be identified, directly or indirectly, from that information. Personal data include: biographical data (biodata), such as name, sex, civil status, date and place of birth, country of origin, country of residence, individual registration number, occupation, religion and ethnicity; biometric data, such as a photograph, fingerprint, facial or iris image; health data; as well as any expression of opinion about the individual, such as assessments of his or her health status and/or specific needs.
The development of the document was financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. The latter, together with Microsoft and Gavi, is a founding partner of the ID2020 Alliance, an NGO that wants to introduce a global digital identity.
So the destination of the journey seems clear, or as Andrew Bud, founder and CEO of iProov, a company specialising in biometric certification, aptly puts it:
The evolution of vaccine certificates will actually drive the whole field of digital identity in the future. So, therefore, this is not just about Covid, this is about something even bigger.