The WHO and two elephants
If you work for the World Health Organization (WHO), you must learn to “live with two elephants in a room.” That’s how a recently appointed WHO program director described the dilemma of this UN agency: one is the organization’s fragmentation into autonomous regional offices, the other its chronic lack of funding and dependence on outside donations.
How could it come to this? And why did all past reform efforts serve to reinforce rather than remedy the organization’s pathologies? WZB researcher Tine Hanrieder has explored this “fragmentation trap.” In her book, International Organization in Time, recently published by Oxford University Press, she studies the World Health Organization’s history of reforms since its foundation in 1946, showing how donor countries and recipient countries, together with WHO bureaucrats, have pushed for the fragmentation of the organization — leading, most recently, to its failure during the Ebola crisis. Her book enhances our understanding of the historical path dependency of international institutions, explaining why past reforms have failed.
Dr. Tine Hanrieder joined the WZB in 2014 and is currently a research fellow in the research unit on Global Governance. She recently received the Politics Journal Prize from the Political Studies Association, the UK’s leading association of political scientists.