You Had One Job: The Shortcomings of Public Health England and the World Health Organization During the Covid-19 Pandemic

40 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2021

Date Written: September 4, 2020

Abstract

The World Health Organization and Public Health England have been widely criticised for their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This paper looks at what went wrong. The WHO has been accused of being credulous in its dealings with China and giving the world a false sense of security about the virus in the early stages of the outbreak. Public Health England was criticised for failing to expand diagnostic testing and contact tracing, discouraging face-mask wearing, failing to share infection data with local authorities, and overcounting the number of deaths from Covid-19 in England. In theory, both organisations prioritise infectious diseases, but have arguably spread their resources to thinly. This has led to a lack of focus. The institutional failure of public health agencies does not easily lend itself to free-market solutions, but funding does not have to come from the state and there is room for some competition. The WHO may be beyond reform, but its most important function of disease surveillance could be carried out by another agency. Alternatively, member-states and private philanthropists could fund a politically neutral pandemic surveillance organisation, focused solely on viral and bacterial epidemics. Public Health England could be replaced with an agency that plans and executes the nation’s response to viral and bacterial epidemics, while its health promotion campaigns could be restored to the NHS and local public health budgets could be supplied by the Department of Health.

Keywords: public health england, world health organisation, WHO, health, public health, COVID-19

JEL Classification: I18, F53, F55, H51

Suggested Citation

Snowdon, Christopher, You Had One Job: The Shortcomings of Public Health England and the World Health Organization During the Covid-19 Pandemic (September 4, 2020). Institute of Economic Affairs, Briefing 14: September 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3851934 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3851934

Christopher Snowdon (Contact Author)

Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) ( email )

2 Lord North Street, Westminster
London, SW1P 3LB
United Kingdom

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