Should the World Health Organization get its Authority from the Security Council to Deal with Swine Flu?

Kenneth Anderson thinks not:

Among the interviews I participated in as one of the experts on the Gingrich-Mitchell UN reform commission back in 2005 was one with a senior WHO official.  I asked him – this was not long after SARS in Hong Kong – whether he thought it would be helpful if the WHO were able to have a mandate from the Security Council treating pandemics or epidemics that might be a serious concern (like SARS or swine flu) as something susceptible to Security Council orders that mandated implementation of recommendations of WHO.  Shouldn’t WHO be able to appeal to the Security Council or the political bodies of the UN in order to be able to have the greatest legitimacy to order forcible measures to prevent the spread of a serious epidemic disease? 

His look was one of utter consternation and horror, and he asked me please not to propose such an idea under any circumstances.  (And I’m not proposing that here, because I think he’s right.)  

In his view, the success that WHO had with SARS, in getting Hong Kong and China generally to go along with what were, from a political standpoint, draconian and costly measures, was entirely a function of the whole crisis not being politicized.  (Update: I mean here once past the refusal of authorities in China even to recognize what was happening – which, certainly, can be understood as far more important than what happened next.)  Of course, in one sense it was political – shutting down HK internally and cutting it off via the airports to the rest of the world – but these measures were proposed and undertaken by reasonably non-political technocrats on an issue that involved, on the one hand, purely medical issues but which also required very difficult and, because of all the contingencies, never fully provable, estimations of cost and benefit from various public health measures.  How long HK and China would have sustained such measures is unknown.  But whatever that period of time was, in this functionary’s view, the legitimacy needed to sustain these policies – costly in direct and indirect terms – was of a kind dependent on it being seen as apolitical in some important sense.  Not all senses, obviously – economic costs weighed against public health unknowns being political always – but not in the sense of the Security Council trying to make it into a matter of international peace and security.

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