As the biggest African member of the World Health Organisation (WHO), holding its annual assembly in Geneva this week, SA has a pivotal role in setting the global health agenda. The WHO’s work has never been more important to address serious and evolving international health threats. It is only a matter of time before there is another global influenza pandemic to match the devastating outbreak of 1918, and, as recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika have shown, new and deadly diseases can emerge at any time. As a UN organisation to which almost every country in the world belongs, the WHO should make strengthening national health systems and co-ordinating defences against transnational disease its priority. But it’s often hard to know if the organisation has any priority. Superficial involvement in a ballooning number of health areas has made it a directionless, ineffective and inward-looking player in an increasingly crowded global health scene. The WHO’s tendency to do a lot poorly has ...

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