When a Delay Is a Denial: The Role of Scientific Evidence in the World Health Organization’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Epidemics and International Law, Shinya Murase and Suzanne Zhou eds., Hague Academy of International Law, Brill
19 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2021
Date Written: April 2021
This paper discusses the role of scientific evidence in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Covid-19 pandemic response. It shows that there exist two competing views on the role of scientific evidence in WHO’s activities: a traditional view, perpetuated by the WHO’s institutional culture, where scientific evidence is the sole focus of WHO’s activities; and a more modern view, where the WHO still acts as an epistemic authority, but where it is acknowledged that considerations other than scientific evidence can play a role in WHO’s decision-making. The paper takes the examples of the recommendation on facemasks to show that the former, more traditional view has been predominant at the WHO during the Covid-19 pandemic – preventing it from providing effective epistemic guidance to its State Parties. If the WHO wants to be an important point of reference for global health and pandemic response, it should start a reflection on the scope and threshold of sufficient evidence for recommending public health measures.
Funding: None to declare.
Declaration of Interests: None to declare.
Keywords: global health law, covid-19, who, scientific evidence
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