Unelected, unaccountable, unchallengeable, redundant. Things aren’t looking so good for top-down institutions these days. The EU faces an existential threat. The UN is discredited and toothless. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO), the source of so much policy in so many states, is under threat.
Britain, for example, intends to half its current annual £100 million contribution to the money-pit unless it balances its books and works out its priorities. And last month, even the EU’s hated President Juncker proposed a new ‘future for Europe’, in which Brussels would do ‘less in domains where it is perceived as having more limited added value, or as being unable to deliver on promises, [including] public health.’
Why? Because, as Oliver Bennett wrote in the Independent last week, ‘the WHO has moved from being a global health ambassador to a pernickety lifestyle watcher, campaigning on subjects like sugar taxes and obesity, for plain cigarette packaging and against the effects of smoking in films’.
In these turbulent times, technocrats don’t want to be associated with those sort of perceptions. (You can, in part, trace the rise of Trump to the influence of the WHO on global do-gooding.) And mindful of their paymasters’ interests, it looks like two of the three final candidates in this month’s election for a new WHO Director General have smelled the populist coffee.
To quote a recent Huffington Post post, candidate Sania Nishtar of Pakistan, ‘has staked her campaign on the developing world and not being too presumptuous with public health policy. (“I realise that every attempt at priority setting in the past has only come up with a longer wish list,” she said.)’ Meanwhile, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the contender from Ethiopia, wants to focus on the deadly diseases which have taken a toll on his continent.
Only the British hopeful, David Nabarro, sounds cut from the same old cloth, campaigning for more emphasis on mitigating the consequences of climate change. (Shades of Heathrow’s traffic-blocking rich white students, protesting the effects of their air travel on black lives.) But none, thankfully, is flagging up the failings in the First World’s personal sphere.
Showing a little modesty is clearly worth it to keep their jobs. And – who knows? – this may help them do their jobs better. We’re all happy to see malaria or TB wiped out. But even pound-for-pound – leaving aside any issues of liberty and choice – generating laws to control lifestyle ain’t a good way to spend our money. And we’re not going to pay any more.
by Winston Smith