Global Emerging Pathogens and the (Prescriptive) Role of the World Health Organization

  • Godfrey B. Tangwa
  • Muhammed O. Afolabi


The World Health Organization (WHO) is the global public health arm of the United Nations Organization (UNO). It came formally into existence with the adoption of its Constitution on 7 April 1948, a day now celebrated the world over as World Health day. Because of the indisputable importance of health for human welfare, well-being, flourishing, and the capacity to enjoy the other goods of human life, the WHO is arguably the most important branch or agency of the UNO. The power and influence of the WHO is evident in all countries of the world, and health ministries, as well as medical practitioners, obey it like an oracle and quote its instructions and recommendations with finality. As far as medical science and practice are concerned, the WHO is the foremost regulatory authority in the world.

But, in dealing with novel and controversial issues, especially at the interface between medical science, practice, ethics and regulation, the WHO has sometimes left much to be desired or stood on clearly controversial positions. This can be seen by critically looking at the role played by the WHO during two recent epidemics: the West African Ebola virus epidemic between December 2013 and December 2015, and the Zika virus disease (ZVD) in South America (2015–2016). During these epidemic outbreaks, the WHO organized a number of emergency meetings, issued a number of releases and conducted or sponsored a candidate vaccine clinical trial.

In this chapter, we make an appraisal of the roles played by the WHO during the West African Ebola epidemic and the South American Zika outbreak. We critically review various releases and recommendations of the WHO and its sponsorship of a candidate Ebola vaccine, as the epidemics unfolded. And finally, we review its current organization, structures and functioning and suggest changes that may strengthen and empower it in its roles and responsibilities as the most important branch of the UNO in an emergent globalized world.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Godfrey B. Tangwa
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Muhammed O. Afolabi
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Yaounde 1YaoundeCameroon
  2. 2.Cameroon Bioethics Initiative (CAMBIN)YaoundeCameroon
  3. 3.Global Emerging Pathogen Treatment Consortium (GET) ConsortiumLagosNigeria
  4. 4.Department of Clinical ResearchLondon School of Hygiene & Tropical MedicineLondonUK

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