The WHO is a membership organisation, with 194 Member States, across six regions, whose role is to build a “better, healthier future for people all over the world.” Formed on 7th April 1948, the WHO leads the international effort to improve public health.
The United States is the leading contributor to the WHO budget of $400 million (15%) in 2019. Furthermore, the U.S provides political support for WHO’s broad programmes, such as the polio vaccination which has been a priority for previous American Government administrations. With the US withdrawing from the WHO, such funding and political will to eradicating polio will likely fail. The programme has been active since 1988 and there has been a reduction in polio cases by 99%, according to WHO. The United States has further contributed by providing strategic support to WHO’s agenda and policies, with some top roles at the organisation being held by Americans.
In light of this vacuum, the UK can step up and fill this void. The UK is a world leader in universal healthcare. In 2017, in an analysis of 11 health systems, the Commonwealth Fund ranked the NHS as the best, safest and most affordable. Public Health England (PHE) is seen as a world leader in public health, and already leads the international effort on Antimicrobial Resistance, a problem which leads to 700,000 deaths every year. The UK is highly committed to the Antimicrobial Resistance, and has appointed a Special Envoy to lead the global effort. There is therefore a credible case for the UK taking over the leadership mantle. The UK has always been a leader in soft power, and given its exit from the EU, leading the United Nations’ international public health arm would demonstrate that the UK is still a global leader and diplomat.