Tania Begum is from London and she is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in the University of St Andrews, Scotland. There, she studies International Relations and History. Her main interests lie in learning about the development, nature and legacy of ideas rooted in European Enlightenment thinking and their political implications in the global arena today.
UK | June 27, 2020 | Student Essay
An analysis of how Germany is helping heal the international arena and its institutions in more ways than one amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has many times been the recipient of criticism for its problematic handlings of fatal diseases around the world. The organisation’s hesitance to promptly declare an international public-health emergency after the 2019 outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been one of its more recent miscarriages of authority. As a result of similar cases replicating themselves today, in a quick internet search of the institution, one will immediately identify two camps of thought in the dozens of catchy headlines: those who lean towards reprimanding the WHO and those who make the case of why the global health association is crucial to, well, the world’s health. Germany’s words and actions consistently suggest that in the heaps of opinion pieces, there could be the same underlining message oriented on the middle-ground– the WHO it is a part of needs support and appropriately timed reformation, not abandonment. Located against the international blame-game played in the backdrop, Angela Merkel and the Bundestag have, in respect to their membership of the WHO, behaved in ways that reinvigorate the possibility of global cooperation against the viruses that continue to spread the earth.
Germany and Funding the WHO
Germany has been a strong long-term advocate for global health as a member of the WHO. Helping to combat the Ebola epidemic, contributing to the fight against polio and strengthening infrastructures of healthcare in poverty-stricken areas through implementing International Health Regulations are a few priorities among its many health-related goals. The call for international cooperation on matters of health, which is the primary purpose of the UN agency, is routinely highlighted when Germany makes its yearly contributions as a top donor. However, with the U.S. cutting $400m of its annual funding to the organisation in an accusation of its China-centrism, the WHO and its members confront a new series of problems. As a result, Germany’s role in the WHO has, in a transformative manner, enhanced itself.
Indeed, while Mr Trump’s political messages are notoriously schismatic, his conclusion that the WHO needs investigation is surprisingly appropriate. However, his argumentation and approach to the situation is more characteristically off the mark. The WHO requires sufficient funding in order to carry out its tasks of conducting and gleaning research, circulating essential information which the former allows, and also dispensing public health instruments and vaccines to those who require it. Consequently, withdrawing significant funds and any support of the organisation only worsens its position to fight the pandemic and quotidian diseases we struggle with today, as well as the ones we may face in the future, and does not assist in providing basic necessities to those who, regardless of great power rivalry, direly need it.
In light of this, Angela Merkel’s understanding of the need for international cooperation is demonstrated, for example, in her continued backing of the organisation and its institutions through the joint declaration of the Alliance for Multilateralism. Spearheaded by Germany, alongside other European nations, the body aims to collectively strengthen rather than step on the WHO as an international public health association. That effort has been, in one example, realised through Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczeck’s initiative to connect research hospitals into an anti-Coronavirus network. Such health projects work with and towards the WHO’s goal of streamlining the flow of technical information that various states possess about the virus, transact knowledge in a way that increases our knowledge about it and thus helps us learn about how we can deal with it.
Self-Interest or Collaboration for All?
In further comparison, Mr Trump’s contestation of the resolution to distribute medicines, vaccines and COVID-19 health technologies (upon availability) in an equitable manner breaks from the core ethos which underpins the WHO. In contrast to this heavy politicisation of health matters, Angela Merkel, while understanding the long-term economic merits of doing so, has stated in a G7 meeting that Germany must honour the special responsibility to provide even-handed access to the same medicinal technology it may develop to different states in the African continent via the WHO as well as financially supporting poorer Southern European countries who have been hard-hit by the virus. Operating in a less solely self-interested way, since helping others can indirectly and in turn help Germany, and even diverging from economic orthodoxy through collective European debt, Germany has here shown that the international arena need not be a cold world of self-help. When it comes to mortality and the lives of different peoples, a leader can either act in a realist way that solely preserves their own state and serves its own interests, or register the threat as concern that transcends the nation state’s borders and therefore collaborate with institutions such as the WHO to prevent further calamity.
Although Dr Tedros’ health project needs re-examination, as German Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn puts it, firemen must reform the fire brigade only once the fires are put out and not as they continue to rage on. The sentiment that underlines the German federal government’s actions is that the WHO should not be dissolved or withdrawn from, instead, a reassessment of its bureaucracy, workings and orientation is necessary in order to remedy the already existing global health association. Moreover, Germany’s enhancement of the WHO’s values through its own complementary missions suggests that the shared international space can constitute cooperation among world leaders who are, as a concerted force, also acutely aware of the improvements that still need to be made on a global level. Germany’s role in the WHO is thereby a supportive and hope-inspiring one.
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