A progressive erosion of the democratic space appears as one of the emerging challenges in global health today. Such delimitation of the political interplay has a particularly evident impact on the unique public interest function of the World Health Organization (WHO).
This paper aims to identify some obstacles for a truly democratic functioning of the UN specialized agency for health. The development of civil society's engagement with the WHO, including in the current reform proposals, is described. The paper also analyses how today's financing of the WHO – primarily through multi-bi financing mechanisms – risks to choke the agency's role in global health.
Democratizing the public debate on global health, and therefore the role of the WHO, requires a debate on its future role and engagement at the country level. This desirable process can only be linked to national debates on public health, and the re-definition of health as a primary political and societal concern.