WHO creates foundation to tap into new donations, including from the public

Jordan Kelly-Linden
Thomas Zeltner founder of the WHO Foundation attends the signing of the memorandum of understanding between World Health Organization (WHO) and the WHO Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland - CHRISTOPHER BLACK/WHO/REUTERS

For the first time in its 72-year-history the World Health Organization (WHO) will welcome donations from the public, individual donors and corporate partners as it launches a foundation arm to help it tackle the most pressing global health challenges.

The historic move comes just weeks after the US threatened to permanently halt funding to WHO. 

President Trump has been relentless in his criticism of WHO and earlier this month threatened to redirect the US’s $400 million in funding to other health organisations if it does not "commit to major substantive improvements in the next 30 days."

However, the launch of the WHO Foundation, will broaden the body’s donor base, providing sustainable funding models and more flexibility for the WHO to respond to present and future health challenges', said Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at this evening’s new conference.

"This is a historic step for WHO. The WHO foundation will establish funding for WHO from sources we haven’t tapped before,” said Dr Tedros. 

Previously its vital efforts were financed by contributions from 194 member states and a number of non-governmental foundations, including its second biggest donor: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Around 80 per cent of these donations come with pre-existing conditions, often earmarking funds for specific projects endorsed by member states.

But these specifications only restrict the WHO’s ability to rapidly respond to emergencies and invest in preventative projects. And it is well documented that one of the greatest threats to the WHO is its access to flexible funding sources, Dr Tedros said today.

"Our discretion to use [funds on] other priorities is really limited," he said. “We are very grateful for those countries that have given us greater flexibility in recent years… But for the [WHO] to fulfil its mission and mandate, there is a clear need to broaden our donor base.”

The Foundation, which will be led by former Secretary of Health of Switzerland Professor Thomas Zeltner, will act as an independent grant-making entity, liaising with the general public and major donors to ensure the WHO can continue to deliver on its five-year strategic plan.

Already more than $214 million (£174m) from more than 400,000 individuals and companies – including $55 million (£45m) from the “One World: TogetherAtHome” virtual concert – has been raised by the WHO Foundation, which has been in the works for at least two years, said Dr Tedros.

And while pandemic preparedness and response will be one of the main areas of the WHO Foundation’s focus, it’s long-term mission is much broader, said its founder Prof Zeltner.

“[The Foundation] will enhance and compliment the global health ecosystem by providing agility and flexibility in grant making, accelerating WHO evidence based interventions and focusing on high impact partnerships,” he said today.

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