EU pushes for more transparency from WHO's members on pandemics

FILE PHOTO: A member of the medical staff removes a face mask after treating a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Havelhoehe community hospital in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) should be given more powers to handle pandemics and its member states should share more information with the agency during health emergencies, European Union officials said on Friday.

The appeals are in line with a draft EU document on reform of the WHO, as Reuters reported last week citing a document drawn up by the German government after discussions with other member states.

The WHO should be faster in its reaction to health crises, Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn said before a video conference on Friday of EU health ministers, adding that its member states should share more information and give it more resources and powers.

WHO officials did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The EU remarks come after criticisms that China and other countries did not share information on the COVID-19 pandemic in a timely fashion at its onset.

The EU draft document, which ministers are expected to endorse on Friday before its formal adoption ahead of a WHO assembly in mid-November, urges the U.N. agency to make public more quickly how and whether its member states respect their obligations on sharing information on health crises.

The United States has accused the WHO of being too close to China in the first phase of the pandemic, when critics say Beijing was slow in sharing crucial information on the new coronavirus which first appeared in the city of Wuhan.

"Transparency on who complies with the rules is fundamental," the EU Health Commissioner told ministers at the video conference, according to her speaking notes.

The draft document also says WHO countries should allow independent epidemiological assessments on-site in high risk zones during health crises.

The paper is the latest to outline the EU's months-long plans to address the WHO's shortcomings on funding, governance and legal powers.

Some EU states have raised concerns on the document, which is subject to changes.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by David Holmes)

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