Improving United Nations Funding to Strengthen Global Health Governance- Amending the Helms – Biden Agreement


Timothy K. Mackey and Thomas E. Novotny

Global health governance is widely considered fragmented after more than a decade of inconsistent support for multi-lateral organizations and faced with the emergence of many new global health donors and non-state enterprises. This paper addresses a series of events marked by enactment of the Helms-Biden agreement in 1999. This legislation ensured that United States funding for the United Nations was to be conditional upon reforms and reductions of U.S. assessments. Although passage of the legislation allowed its largest contributor/debtor to pay back arrears and continue payments going forward, it also represented a growing trend in U.S. unilateralism and disengagement from support for multi-national organizations. In particular, continued arrears and budgetary restrictions have affected specialized U.N. agencies such as the World Health Organization. This agency has experienced a zero nominal growth budget that may have impacted its governance capacity. We review the potential impact of the Helms-Biden legislation on WHO governance, and suggest that the governance of this important global health agency may benefit from its timely repeal.