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Americas Region Supports Efforts to Put WHO on Stronger Financial Footing
December 6, 2012

Opening Statement by Member States of the Americas Region
at the Second Extraordinary Meeting of the WHO Program, Budget and Administration Committee
Delivered by Ambassador Jimmy Kolker
Principle Deputy Director, Office of Global Affairs
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Note: World Health Organization Member States are meeting in Geneva Dec 6-7 for an Extraordinary Meeting of the Program Budget and Administration Committee to collectively consider a range of reform proposals aimed at putting WHO on stronger financial footing.

[Text of Statement]

This week, December 2, marks the 110th anniversary of the founding of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau, the first intergovernmental health body.  On behalf of the 35 Member States of the Americas Region, I am pleased to present this opening statement today and express our appreciation to the Director General and her staff for their efforts in bringing about the reform of WHO in a transparent, inclusive and Member State-driven way.

This meeting is the next important step in the reform process and particularly significant because it is the first time we are collectively addressing in a concrete way the financing challenges of the organization.  This is critical given that the entire reform started over a recognition by the DG of the need place this organization on a more sustainable financial footing – one where priorities set by the Member States and informed by the best evidence available are matched to funding from a diverse and reliable donor base.

We take this opportunity to thank Professor Thomas Zeltner for his work as the DG’s envoy for these issues over the past several months.  This paper reflects his work to improve WHO’s financing, and in the recommendations we see a diversity of views that informed his conclusions.  We are in broad agreement with the spirit and much of the substance of what is proposed, individual Member States from the region will complement and bring their national perspectives to the discussion.  Nonetheless, there are a few key points we’d like to highlight as a region to help start the discussion.

The Americas region sees proposals one and three as at the heart of our work this week and we urge that they be recommended to the Board for adoption.  We see the approval of the entire programme budget by the Health Assembly as a critical tool by which Member States will set priorities for the organization.  We take note  that the legal obligation for funding by Member States would remain limited to assessed contributions.

Some may dismiss this recommendation as simply a restructuring of a routine resolution by the WHA.  In our view, however, this represents an important test of the ability of both Secretariat and Member States to make the cultural shift necessary for this reform to take hold.  By converting consideration of the Program Budget from a paper exercise to one for which the organization and its stakeholders are held accountable, we are taking a positive step toward making the PB a more powerful tool for mobilizing resources, in particular financing with “improved characteristics” highlighted in the paper.

Proposal three establishing the financing dialogue could become a key facilitator of this cultural shift.  We support it in concept to promote the engagement and transparency needed for long-lasting change.  We particularly view the engagement of non-state donors in this process as critical to the confidence building and alignment of financing necessary for a stronger and more nimble WHO.

Turning to proposal four on coordination of resource mobilization, resource management, internal financial controls, and reporting, we thank the DG for including these in the paper and recognize that many of them are within her remit as Director General.  They are very important however, and we would like to highlight one principle that as a region, we believe should be foremost in the minds of the Secretariat as they carry out needed changes – that is transparency.  We note that one challenge for resource management over the past six or so years has been the need to meet specific formulas for resource allocation such as the “Validation Mechanism” that called for 70 percent of resources to go to regions and keep 30 percent at headquarters.

We understand that this ratio has never been achieved and that it may not be a strategic way to proceed. We also express our frustration within the Americas region that resources allocated under the formula to our region under this system have never been fully realized.  As the DG has said, “resources should follow function.”  We endorse this view, but would underscore that for it to work, transparency and accountability have to be at the foundation of planning and budgeting decisions. If the reforms we are contemplating this week on financing are to have lasting effect, and result in a more diverse set of donors, there needs to be transparency and accountability for fund allocation decisions made.

As we consider proposal five on broadening the donor base, the Americas region supports exploration in this area.  We have to be clear as we are doing so, particularly with respect to non-state donors, that declaration of interests and a transparent and level playing field are essential to success here as well.

Mr. Chair, we thank you for your willingness to lead us this week.   The Americas region supports this process, indeed we take some credit for the decision that led to this meeting.  We look forward to providing clear and targeted recommendations to the Board to advance the sustainable financing of WHO and to ensuring that organizational priorities are developed in a democratic and inclusive process involving all Member States.  We believe the paper we have before us is a good basis for that work.