Document Type : Original Article


1 Assistant Professor in Political Science, Faculty of Economic and Political Science, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran-Iran

2 Ph.D. Candidate in IR, Faculty of Law and Political Science, Allameh Tabatabai University, Tehran-Iran


Nearly at the end of 2019, the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic posed an all-out challenge to human beings in the 21st century. In fact, it started to jeopardize people’s lives on an international scale. Since it is a global pandemic for which no effective vaccines have been discovered yet, it has involved many international organizations including the World Health Organization. Therefore, the main question is what the WHO—an authorized International organization—would do to conduct a balanced approach for tackling the new threats such as the COVID-19. The current situation necessitates adopting six approaches, i.e. gaining solidarity and accepting responsibility, keeping away the predicament of nationalism, globalism, communitarianism, and cosmopolitanism, identifying security and certainty as the permanent human requirements, avoiding being involved in cultural differences, and trying to end the quarrel between the global leadership and global-regional partnership. Hence, international organizations, especially the WHO, can play a growingly functional role in tackling this global challenge. The pandemic also introduces international sanitary needs that must be addressed from a professionalization perspective rather than a politicization one so that effective efforts will be made accordingly.


Main Subjects


The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic can be regarded as a sign of transformation in the international relations since the late 2019. Before World War II, all efforts relied internationally on “war and peace”. As a result, an international organization called the League of Nations (LON) was established to keep peace among nations. The main current concern was then “security and development” in the post-WWII era due to rivalries between the two then superpowers competing to evolve into developing countries. The outbreak of the WWII demonstrated the LON’s failure in its peacekeeping mission; therefore, it was necessary to reestablish other international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) to maintain security worldwide. Its permanence until after the downfall of the bipolar system shows no failure. “Order and justice” were regarded as the new core issues in the era following the Cold War known as the globalization era. At that time, a new order and a proper procedure were essential based on multilateralism and international regimes. In fact, a new architecture was needed to be developed so that all cultures and civilizations could hold their particular agendas to adjust the international construction in advance. Decades after the end of the Cold War, international development was not expected to be prioritizing “the living and the dead” as the new emerging current issue.

Throughout the 20th century, although the living and the dead might be a primary purpose of ethics, medicine, and other micro social areas, it was at margin (Booth, 1975: 45) because it prevailed the nuclear strategic matter over international relations. By comparison, it is entangled with those marginalized issues; hence, it leads to a strategic surprise at macro structures. It is a surprise for two reasons, the first of which is its unpredictability, whereas the second is its lack of sustainable strategy (Sauco, 2020:7). Therefore, something seems internationally new and different. First, it is a pandemic instead of the previous threats that were limited at epidemic and infection levels. In other words, its consequences are incomparable to those of the previous hazards due to its level of diffusion, speed, and immense intensity. It has actually become a major concern for human beings ranging from private spheres to social, economic, and cultural ones. According to WHO statistics, nearly 5 to 25 million jobs disappeared, and the world sustained an approximate loss of 860 m$ to 3.4 b$ (Byanyims, 2020: 37) (See the comparison between the COVID-19 and the previous pandemic in the figure below).



Figure 1. The global burden of disease: Covid-19 versus other causes


In addition, a very important issue was also highlighted in the IR as the “level of analysis”. (Little & Smith, 2006: 2). The question is now whether this outbreak is related to the primarily host place, i.e. China, or it is an international concern needing to be addressed by international organizations. Either case brings a variety of issues from budgeting to legal responsibility. It is of paramount importance to consider the role of WHO in current conditions with respect to the future.

The COVID-19 has also caused many complications and changed the international order. Previously, when there were such diseases as AIDS/HIV, MERS-CoV, Ebola, and SARS-CoV, why did the international public health authorities such as the WHO take any preventive actions at the elementary phases of outbreaks? In fact, WHO is expected to be more equipped and prepared to deal with the same situation in advance.

Moreover, what was stated on the complexity and ever-changing nature of the international order accompanies other issues that would need more attention because there is still no clear solution. When an unknown threat emerges, there are usually attempts at justifying it rather than finding its cause (Sauco, 2020: 8). Therefore, it makes things more complicated with no hope for a solution. In this case, states or NGOs might be left with no ways out; therefore, discovering a vaccine is daunting challenge. It could also be employed ineffectively by the virtue of bioterrorism, for it is not eve safe due to transmission risks.

Therefore, all countries-developed or underdeveloped-are entangled with the disease. The developing countries which might have a chance of discovering a vaccine sooner due to their advanced and well-organized infrastructure will probably tend to move toward populist nationalism. However, what countries need is to show solidarity and collaboration through the complex interdependency of the post-Cold War era. In other words, if underdeveloped countries are experiencing unsafe situations, there will probably be dire consequences. Furthermore, the developing countries might face economic and medical problems; however, both groups face social issues (Carreirs, 2020: 22). Considering life, death, and health to be the global and international security issues, all countries must cooperate to bring about safety. In other words, power should internationally be at the service of humanity (Ibid.: 22).

The main question is what actions WHO needs to take in order to cope with the COVID-19 or to consider the matter of life and death as the main cause of international development for both now and future. Hypothetically, the following six approaches can be adopted: Gaining solidarity and accepting responsibility; keeping away nationalism, globalism; and also communitarianism, and cosmopolitanism simultaneously; recognizing security and uncertainty as the permeant human reality; avoiding being involved in cultural differences; and finally trying to end a quarrel between the global leadership and global-regional partnership.

International Organizations: A Brief review

It is necessary to theoretically address the role of international organizations (IOs) to consider what WHO can do in current conditions. In facts, IOs are classified as governmental and nongovernmental categories. Governmental IOs include state delegations and also have to be in harmony at national and local levels. Accordingly, these IOs have come into birth by the will, might, and rule of national states; as a result, they would take account of their members’ intentions as the shareholders who cover their expenses. It is the main idea of realism and neorealism by which the IOs must be able to converge the contesting interests. In other words, the IOs need to determine which states are their members. For instance, the UN Security Council is highly regarded by its primary focus of concern on powers. The realists believe that it may not be expected to encourage a deep cooperation among nations by what the IOs try to do at international levels. Since they deem that the military apparatus has a great privilege to gain the interest regardless of the need to enjoy cooperation among nations when the interest is relative, its global distribution and problems would adversely affect the cooperation (Simmons & Martin 2002: 329-330).

If realists are going to plan not to force the rules previously made for the IOs, why have they incurred the cost and spent the time and energy on membership and budgeting to provide an agenda? The question might be answered in two ways. First, the situation might partly be addressed by soft realists who believe in the IOs in order to institutionalize the balancing behavior to gain interests instead of restoring the force through the IO mechanism (Ibid.: 330)

Controversially, the second answer would include rational functionalism in correspondence with realism. It is also believed that the IOs decline the cost of the international economic interactions or international communicative deficits, something which would be on the behave of the states’ national interests. What the IOs conduct internationally is beyond the individual relations among nations (Ibid.: 330-331).

Therefore, the states would be prepared to authorize the IOs to reach an institutional independence in accordance with the principal agent model to promote a sustainable cooperation and mutual profitable interactions. In other words, what extends the IOs could be independence to perform their functions. Implicitly, the IOs must set up a legal and rational legitimated authority based on the theories of organization (Barnett & Fennimore 1999: 699). It is essential for the IOs to introduce themselves as the impersonal, professionalized, and neutral organizations worldwide. According to Max Weber, organizations possess legal procedural and independence in order to provide the rule of law and transparency in organizational functions. Finally, he perceived the matter as a myth and stated, “Behind the functional purposes [of bureaucracy], of course, ‘ideas of culture-values’ usually stand” (Ibid.: 708). Therefore, the international peacekeeping forces try to project a picture of adherent “international solidarity” worldwide. However, they did the same on different missions. Equally important, the World Bank plans to impose its economic policy on southern countries by virtue of economic aids. In addition, the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) decides on refugees’ destinations without receiving their perceptions (Ibid.: 710). This is also true about the western powers’ involvement into the south countries under the pretext of humanitarian interventions or responsibility (R2P) (Simmons, 2018: 15).

The matter of independence in the IOs might be solved by referring them as professional and technical organizations such as the WHO which has to be neutral and independent to have effectiveness. According to liberal institutionalism, a context of information transparency and accountability should be provided at state levels in accordance with human rights to address environmental disasters in the domestic sphere and adapt the complex interdependence and multilateralism approach internationally. It is now possible to realize the Weber’s myth by which the IOs seek to promote a particular idea of cultural values worldwide in three ways, i.e. 1) classifying the world as categories of actors and actions, 2) interpreting meanings in the social world, and (3) articulating and diffusing new norms, principles, and actors worldwide. (Ibid.: 710) This is why the Iranian authorities, especially the Supreme Leader, criticized “the Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework of Action for the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4”. (See, accessed at November 23, 2020).

If it is not a solution, the English school theory of the international society alongside the theory of constructivism can help the IOs maintain their interdependent positions. Constructivists try to show that the IOs can possibly be used to create a reflection and spread an intersubjective mindset. (Simmons & Martin, 2002: 335). Therefore, the English school postulated that “institutions” would be as broad as of the balance of power and diplomatic initiatives (Ibid.: 333). Hence, the international society is, by definition, a group of states that have established dialogs and consented common rules of institutions for the conduct of their relations in maintaining these arrangements (Ibid.: 333). As a result, the cultural communality or the cultural consensus comes true to realize the international norms and promote affiliation and loyalty toward the IOs. Consequently, not only do the IOs include the equal sovereign states, but they also embrace the equal sovereign individuals (Parrat, 2017: 60). Therefore, it would be useless to utilize health and environment to exert pressure on the part of the great powers; instead, it might be seen as the proper rules and procedures in order to improve the environment for the well-being of humans and alleviate such problems as poverty and internationally ill-organized institutions in an effort to prevent the emerging threats. As a result, the IOs can be effective by the extension of their memberships, the rate of integrity of states, the legal and structural arrangements, and especially their functions in the future (Higgott, 2006: 614-615)

Accordingly, it is time to review the previous roles and achievements of WHO to set a proper context to evaluate its current accomplishments.

WHO: Trajectories, Objectives, and Achievements

Since the 19th century, a series of international developments have been achieved, and at the same time there have been some epidemic diseases worldwide. They have affected the rate of travel and migration, increased trade, displaced people, caused insect and microbe resistance, resulted in urbanization, development projects, and technological advances, and brought about global environmental changes, and made states and global market forces fail (Hough, 2004: 168-173).

The primary actions to prevent the infectious diseases would be referred to as the Concert of Europe by increasing the trade between European countries. In 1851, the first International Sanitary Conference (ISC) was held in Paris. Upon starting to contest the European powers for the trade interest, the conference failed to reach a convention to prevent the cholera, plague, and yellow fever causing epidemics at that time. Next conferences tried to reach the same destination until the outbreak of cholera; however, in 1892 when the seventh ISC was held, the European powers agreed upon a convention to prevent the disease. When the cholera epidemic lasted until the eighth and ninth ISCs, some measures were taken to contain the disease. The Fourth Convention was even approved in 1902 to cope with the old-aged threat of plague (Ibid: 173-174).

The four conventions coalesced into a unified convention which led to the establishment of the International Sanitary Bureau in the US; later became Pan American Health Organization and is now known as a bureau of the WHO). The Office international d'hygiène publique (OIHP) was established in Paris by fifty state delegations and colonial administrations in 1907 in order to reach a common agreement on the rule of quarantine and promotion of a global sanitary convention. The OIHP remained on active service as a part of the League of Nations until the birth of the Health Organization of the League of Nations (HOLN) in 1923 in order to examine the casualties of epidemics of typhus, cholera, and influenza. It also founded an epistemic community through the professional medical commissions to coordinate its members in preventing malaria and cancer epidemics. Despite the failure of the League of Nations in keeping peace, the HOLN succeeded in preventing typhus in the East Europe and evolving the sanitary standards (Ibid.: 174)

Replacing the HOLN, the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was established on trial from 1944 to 1946 to provide food and medical equipment for the countries entangled in the WWII in order to prevent diffusion of war diseases. Finally, WHO replaced UNRRA in 1948 in the aftermath of the San Francisco Conference in 1945 (Ibid.: 1745). WHO has devolved responsibility upon Africa, Americas, Europe, Eastern Mediterranean, Southwest Asia and Western Pacific for independence. Based in Geneva, WHO is directed by an annual World Health Assembly (WHA) including 191 members. WHA has a 32-member executive board overseeing WHO. The board members are public medical experts in six committees consisting of the health ministers of states. The Director-General is elected by WHA through recommendations of the Executive Board for a five-year term. In addition, WHO is financed by two sources. The regular source comes from the states’ shares, whereas the extra-budget source is contributed by international organizations such as World Bank or other private donors to support the designated causes (Ibid.: 175-176).

The achievement of WHO in fighting diseases from the outset seems to be defensible. It managed to cope with malaria, especially in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America through the use of penicillin and DDT which saved more than two million lives. WHO has replaced its traditional priority to consider diseases by discovering vaccines under social and environmental conditions such as the shortage of spring water which could be the main cause of the spread of a disease; however, it faced the challenge that microbes became resistance to antibiotics. At that stage, WHO focused on the context which could be spreading the disease, especially the HIV/ADIS and the immigration of international workers in the 1970s. For this purpose, it highlighted the need for physicians. As a result, many experts emigrated from southern countries to the north, something which raised voices of dissent from the south (Ibid.: 178-179).

The American Drug Screen Corporation has never permitted the distribution of cheaper HIV vaccines in the market for copyright pretexts. However, this led to disagreement on the suspicious relations between WHO and the International Drug Corporation. Thereafter, the executive board called for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), which is governed by a 15-member board consisting of four permanent members, i.e. WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the Gate Foundation as well as 11 rotating members including three donor governments, two less-developed countries (LDC), one NGO, one LDC industry representative, one developed industry representative, one foundation, one technical health institute, and one research/academic body (Ibid.: 181). Moreover, the GAVI intends to use informational technologies to strengthen the international policies to detect and respond to diseases through such mechanisms as the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), the Global Outbreak and Alert Network (GOARN), Oxfam, Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health International Network (TEPHINET) and Med Act (Ibid.: 186-187).

The third and new step/challenge of WHO to cope with the emerging threats in the 21st century is to predict them in order to avoid any element of surprise and become prepared to foresee and face the threats in advance. The issue has provoked many criticisms of WHO functions. In fact, the efforts made by WHO to prevent the COVID-19 will be under discussion.

WHO and COVID-19 Outbreak

WHO was criticized for a lack of global original vision, and its global credit declined over time (Bernardini, 2020: 59). This is partly related to the background of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus elected as the Director-General by the voter turnout of small countries in completion with the developed countries’ candidate. Apparently, it was unfortunate that he served as the health minister in the Robert Mugabe’s administration in Ethiopia. Additionally, the 2019 WHO’s 3.85-M$ agreement with some consultant corporation, i.e. Mckinsey Consultancy Company, BCG, Deloitte, Prava Group, Seek Development, and Delivery Associations, covered by the Bill Gates Foundation leaked out in the media. There was controversy as to why it was treated as secret (Ibid.: 50). In December 2019, there were some reports showing that WHO ignored a warning from the Taiwanese prime minister, Tsai Ing-Wen informing that a virus infection was spreading among humans. Even when, there was a five-days delay in declaring the Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The disease became more than ten times infectious on a trial date. Moreover, Dr. Tedros’s visit to China and his meeting with President Xi Jiping, in which he received a financial aid from the country where the COVID-19 broke out, prompted the US to warn on the increased influence of China on WHO to underplay a fault (Ibid.). As a result, the US reduced its financial share to WHO, an event which politicized WHO activities previously which were also made appear by the British Prime Minister Thatcher and the US president Reagan (Hough, 2004: 177).

WHO would be faced with the two challenges that could expose it to the deficit of credit. One challenge is inadequate budgetary in fulfilling the ingrowing global expectations. The total 2017-2018 fiscal budget of WHO was nearly 2.2 B$, which is equivalent to 30% of the budget of the US Center for Disaster Control and Prevention, only 4% of the annual budget of a pharmacological company such as Pfizer, and 10% of what costs for drug advertising. (Bernardini, 2020: 49). Second, WHO shoulders an overloaded responsibility in comparison with the other UN professional organizations (See Table 1 below).



As the international health security would be considered the main objective of WHO, “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.” (WHO, 2018). Published in 2007, WHO objectives for the 21st century include “the activities required, both proactive and reactive, to minimize vulnerability to acute public health events that endanger the collective health of populations living across geographical regions and international boundaries.” (Chin et al. 2008: 680). These objectives also defied the six important threats that could be endangering the entire world (Table 1 above). In order to carry out such a vast program, it might be necessary to tackle such challenges as inadequate investment, unexpected policy changes, public health consequences of conflicts, microbial husbandry, and infectious diseases. In addition, this could also be true for the international sustainable public health in the foreseeable future (Guinta, 2020: 125).

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO has set a top agenda in order to contain the disease. In so doing, it needs to provide the highest health standards, be confident in discovering a vaccine and medical equipment for all regardless of any races, religions, or political orientations, and set a priority for the less developed countries. Accordingly, WHO proceeded to publish a strategy including six steps of virus prevention called mobilization, control, suppress, reduction, and development (WHO, 2020: 5). For the realization of this strategy, two different plans were arranged at both national and international levels. The national strategies to respond to COVID-19 include coordinating, engaging, and mobilizing communities to limit exposure; finding, testing, isolating, and taking care of cases and quarantining contacts to control transmission; providing clinical care and maintaining essential health services to mitigate mortality; and adopting strategies based on risk, capacity, and vulnerability (Ibid.: 7-9). There is an action plan for international community’s response to the COVID-19. It includes coordination and monitoring of national preparedness and response; epidemiological analysis and risk assessment; risk communication and community engagement; coordinated global supply chain management; technical expertise and health emergency workforce; acceleration of research, innovation and knowledge sharing; and empowerment of pandemic preparedness for the future (Ibid.: 12-15).

Therefore, WHO faced a surprise when the COVID-19 broke out. It is still entangled with the politicized issues and not prepared to face the new emerging threats. To become efficient in achieving the objectives for the new situation and solving its structural and functional problems, it needs to gain an insight into following six principles at an international level.

First, it should try to enhance the global solidarity and increase the accountability of states (Gardini, 2020: 53). We are now living in a world where global politics have become more diversified than the relationships between states and non-governmental agents that are inextricably intertwined. There is further focus now on the foreign behavior of states, and the new threats have caused common vulnerability worldwide. Therefore, states need to show good faith by sharing the collective decision and accepting the individual responsibility in preventing the global common threats, especially on the part of the developed and privileged countries. They have to confront the fact that it is impossible to stop the emerging threats individually, as the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated. It is crucial to avoid utilizing global issues on behalf of national interests, take accountability for the international problems, and make effective efforts to find out solutions for future. By ignoring the contest of politicians and professionals, WHO is able to coordinate, arrange, and implement the global public health effectively.

Second, the WHO should keep away from either nationalism or globalism (Gardini, 2020: 53). What took place is the Trump administration withdrawal from financing the WHO budget. Accordingly, there is a strong tendency towards self-populist nationalism in current trends of the virus. This behavior, especially by the privileged states, would mean feeling apathy for the humankind and would not result in protecting its own needs and welfare. Actually, it needs to endeavor to shift its own burden towards the international organizations in their overloading business. Hence, making a commitment on their own domestic issues would be of the essence business of national states. Although it does not mean that it would be at the expense of others, there is apathy for what suffered the humankind clearly. That is what WHO was found faulty with in the functionalism and inter-governmentality at the same time. It is inconvenienced to be fully on either side (Hough, 2004: 185). This is why WHO is an inter-governmental organization which has to deal with the pandemics worldwide. In other words, the international system has not undergone a dramatically transformation from the nation-state construction. It is also inadequate to tackle the globally emerging threats caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Reality has imposed death, pain, sadness and anger. The populists first tried to maintain the fiction. There is no reason for alarm.” (Sauco, 2020: 9).

The third principle is to stay away from communitarianism and cosmopolitanism simultaneously (Gardini, 2020: 53). Regarding the two abovementioned principles, keeping away from communitarianism would maximize profits globally through the international organizations. This could be performed by increasing the mutual economic interests, dishing out the global costs for the public issues in proportion between states, opening up new scientific, social, and cultural opportunities for nations, supporting the international cooperation for medical productions through diplomacy (Alvarez, 2020: 13), reserving the public health at national and international levels, forming an international public chain, broadening medical knowledge to improve humankind conditions, investing in shares with the pharmaceutical private corporations in order to discover vaccines, being alert to tackle new emerging threats under the authority of the GAVI, and also prioritizing human rights priority in international developments. Showing cosmopolitanism by inclination does not mean that it is just about making economies have international materialistic interactions. Instead, it must be setting a proper context for cultural and ideational dialogs, debates, and discussions. For the fair distribution of materialistic profits, a deep sense of empathy is required.

The fourth principle is to focus on the public health security and uncertainty. Uncertainty is a quintessence issue in perceiving security as a whole. In other words, humans live in the house of uncertainty. “By describing uncertainty as the ‘existential’ condition of human relations, we mean that it is not an occasional and passing phenomena but rather an everyday part of the existence of individuals and groups. It is uneven in its significance and how it is felt, but it is ultimately inescapable.” (Booth & Wheeler, 2008: 134). The COVID-19 took WHO by such a surprise that it was belated to respond or prepare countermeasures. In addition, humans live in uncertainties by which it is impossible to predict the all uneven issues that are many and various in economic, technological, social, political, and virus genetic aspects. Previous experiences can show a unique way to foresight the future; however, this would be inadequate because the future is not identical to the past. It brings uncertainty back to reality.

In this regard, two very important points should be taken into account. First, it is necessary to use warning, surveillance and joint reaction technologies in response to the potential health threats growing in future (Kapur, 2020: 38). Second, efforts must be made to determine how to encounter a possible pandemic. What could be the main challenge and opportunity at the same for the WHO? The answer could be its acting abilities to tackle the new emerging threats. This point of view represents an objective assessment tool to appraise organizations in past, present, and future. It is proved that WHO has managed to control and prevent diseases worldwide by making a proper context and saving the humankind so far. However, what is an outstanding ability of WHO from now on would be its capability to predict, forecast, foresight and also make projections for the future.

The fifth principle is to abide cultural differences. In fact, cultural differences would be defined through two points of views. First, as discussed earlier, international rules and norms should never take place in exerting an influence on the other cultures. It would be effective to find out a common consensus or set a context to take part in solving international issues such as the international public health. Second, Byung Chul Han, the South Korean philosopher, points to a clash of values between the Eastern Matrix (Confucianism, collectivism, authority-recognition, and authority-obedience) and the Western Matrix (liberalism, individualism, avocation of subject authority and scrutiny of the conduct of rules) (Alvarez, 2020: 13). What is the solution for cultural differences to set a common base for coordination in a crisis? The two matrixes addressed come to fully contradict each other. It might be possible to escape a dilemma by examining functions or dysfunctions in a crisis at the international level. A study, for example, demonstrated that the liberally-oriented public health service in the Western countries asked for ineffectiveness at the time of an outbreak (Debre & Dijksra 2020: 2-14). It depends absolutely on the analysis of the alternative matrix, e.g. the Chinese one. Then it would be opting for an influence by force. If so, there is failure all the way, and it is necessary to cope with difficulties through synergy. The second solution for the institutionalization of WHO is to keep away from the situation in which cultural differences would lead to conflict and violence because it might face the WTO with being overloaded and overlooked in advance.

So for, five points have led to opt for a global leadership or a regional-global partnership in response to a situation similar to the COVID-19 pandemic. To be prepared for other outbreaks, two solutions are provided. First, it is believed that the world is faced with a surprising threat such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We need a global leadership when the WHO is unable to respond right on time (Dongxaio, 2020: 33; Regazzoni, 2020: 32). There is no clear mechanism as for how the global leadership can be employed; therefore, it is necessary to consider an alternative solution. Apparently, the latter is in proper place for its optimism according to the international structure, and it is also essential to optimize WHO in order to enhance the regional-global partnership (Pascoe, 2010: xi). Through synergic endeavor from the top-down and bottom-up frameworks simultaneously, it sets a proper context to control the situation and exert the international public health rules. It may also generate a mechanism for the consensus of global leadership to be effective in the future.


This paper aimed to show what main problems the international organizations, e.g. WHO, are dealing with right now, how they could face those problems, what issues can be kept away, and what can be done in order to succeed in preventing a disease and enhance the capabilities to respond to other emerging threats in advance. What seems to be clear is that states have problem in dealing with the international organizations. On the one hand, they are unwilling to render a decision on the higher authority abroad. Further, it has been proved that individual states fail to deal with the new threats such as the COVID-19 on their own. Although the international organizations lack a leading authority in the same way as the domestic environment to restore forces, they never feel free to do so through the political contending positions of the members to exert an influence. The paradox is that they have not authorized and facilitated to take effective measures in preventing crises; however, the new threats have been widely spreading. A situation on which the WHO is working is similar to what the socialists defined as a sort of bureaucratic apparatus in the post capitalism era when they were only authorized to implement the public administration. Unlike its historical trajectory in which the socialists’ ideal was to create an apolitical society after the capitalist one, the international organizations are located in a pre-global governance situation.

Hence, the states need to benefit from the international organizations in order to mitigate uncertainties and promote transparency to tackle the new threats at the international level. At the same time, they try to leave an effect and put a burden on them even at expense of delegitimizing international rules and norms. Superpowers have indented to utilize the international organizations to justify their decisions and decrease the cost of international burdens as much possible as. Others tried to make use of the international organizations to enhance current situations and decline the leverage of the former ones.

WHO must not hesitate to perform its duty, i.e. it must be able to contain and prevent pandemics in future due to its raison d'être. In order to be efficient as a professional organization, WHO would keep away what made a conflict between the US and the China with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak because the highly politicized authority could certainly decline the WHO’s capability to respond to pandemics. The paper also argues that the WHO needs to set a top agenda for the states to uphold the rules and facilitate the international solidarity in order to fulfill the medical requirements. Thus, it needs to keep away nationalism/globalism and communality/cosmopolitanism dualities, for the individual states are unable to deal with the disease. There is no optimal option to create a global governance in the foreseeable future. Although the disease stemmed from a community, it has now become a global pandemic. Therefore, it is not wise to look for a culprit; instead, it is necessary to deal with the situation because it has affected all-out dimensions of the human life. Currently, there are uncertain conditions regarding effective vaccination against the global threat of the COVID-19. In addition, putting aside the cultural differences and the politicized decisions can set a proper context to establish a worldwide partnership. As a result, WHO would strive to formulate a strategy for the sustainable international public health in order to present a role model and lead the international organizations to cope with the new emerging threats and build a safer world for the humankind in future.


Citation D. Gharayagh-Zandi, S. Makouee. COVID-19 and International Organizations: A Case Study of WHO. Int. J. Adv. Stu. Hum. Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(1):1-20.  

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