Health for all people – WHO Director General Tedros on how Sweden’s flexible funding makes a difference leaving no one behind

10 Apr 2019

“The flexibility of Sweden’s contribution makes an enormous difference to WHO’s ability to manage its budget”, says WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during Partner’s Forum in Stockholm - the first Forum of a series of conversations with partners to help WHO meet the strategic goals laid out in its 13th General Programme of Work (GPW13). The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health for everyone is at the heart of WHO’s work - a key value shared by the host country. At the Forum we are meeting with Dr. Tedros to speak about how Sweden’s flexible financial contributions enables the organization to better meet the health needs of a changing world by allocating resources more effectively to prioritized areas of work.

Dr. Tedros, Sweden is a key donor of flexible, unearmarked funding to WHO. Some other donors prefer more earmarked funding. What would you say is the main difference between these forms of funding?

WHO is deeply grateful to Sweden for the extent of its flexible funding for WHO. Sweden is truly leading by example in this area. The flexibility of Sweden's contribution makes an enormous difference to WHO's ability to manage its budget.

The main advantage of flexible funding is that it enables WHO to better match resources to the priorities set by Member States. Currently, more than 70% of WHO's budget is tightly earmarked, which reinforces silos, creates internal competition for funds and makes it much more difficult to work as one organization with a shared vision and mission.

Important parts of WHO's work do not attract earmarked funding, in particular our work on noncommunicable diseases and the core costs of running our emergency programme. Because of these funding gaps, we need a sufficient supply of flexible funding to ensure that the important work WHO does on issues like nutrition and cancer moves forward according to our mandate.

WHO is in a process of transforming to ensure we deliver greater impact for the people we serve, and greater value for money for our partners. One way we're doing that is by integrating programmes so that we take a more holistic approach to health. But if the vast majority of funding continues to be tied down for specific purposes, making that change becomes much more difficult.

We recognize that there are legitimate legal, procedural and policy-related barriers for many of our contributors to move from strictly earmarked to more flexible arrangements. We also recognize that our closest funding partners have called consistently for changes in the way that WHO works and we are responding to that. As we now move forward with our new General Programme of Work, our new results framework and our transformation plans, we are asking our friends to come together for an open discussion about how we can address this issue together. By hosting the inaugural WHO Partners Forum, Sweden is helping us by providing that opportunity.

For WHO's work, at all three levels, is Sweden's unearmarked funding helpful and if so in what ways?

Sweden has been a strong supporter of WHO for many years and exemplifies that trust with funds that can be aligned to WHO's priorities as agreed by all countries at the World Health Assembly. Sweden contributed over US$ 70 million for the 2016-2017 biennium, of which almost 67% was given as flexible funding. The majority of those funds went to strengthening health systems, supporting WHO's work on health emergencies, promoting health through the life-course and combating noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Can you give some recent examples of how unearmarked funding has been useful in operations?

One good example is the Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE), which gives WHO the resources to respond quickly to disease outbreaks and other emergencies. The ability to respond in as little as 24 hours can prevent a health emergency from spiralling out of control, saving lives and resources.
Right now, WHO and partners are supporting Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to respond to the impact of Tropical Cyclone Idai in ramping up the health response to the disaster. An initial surge team of WHO experts is working with the three health ministries and other partners to target support where it is needed most. WHO has already dispatched medicines for injuries and primary health care, including malaria treatment, to the affected countries. These supplies cover the primary health care needs for 10,000 people for three months, including treatment for severe injuries.

It is precisely these sort of interventions that the CFE funds. Since the start of last year, Sweden has been the fourth-biggest donor to the CFE, with a contribution of over US$ 4 million.

With special thanks and credits to WHO.

Last updated 10 Apr 2019, 1.27 PM