* Agreement aims to boost mandatory fees
* Donors need to approve deal in May meeting
* U.S. support was a 'turning point' in talks (Adds WHO chief comment)
By Emma Farge
GENEVA, April 28 (Reuters) - World Health Organization members reached a preliminary agreement this week to gradually raise their mandatory fees starting from 2024, the WHO chief confirmed on Thursday in what he described as a "pivotal moment" for global health.
Reforming the 74-year old agency's funding model is a priority for Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as he aims to remodel it to respond to the risk of more pandemics. Currently, the body relies heavily on voluntary contributions from governments and private donors which are often earmarked for specific programmes, leaving it with insufficient flexibility.
"(Member states') recommendation to increase assessed contributions to 50% will empower WHO and safeguard its unique expertise, mandate and legitimacy," Tedros said on Twitter, confirming information from sources about the closed-door talks earlier. "A strong WHO keeps us all safer," he added.
Germany, which is the body's top donor and whose national Bjorn Kummel chairs the talks, also confirmed the outcome on Twitter.
The agreement comes in the form of a recommendation that still needs to be formally approved by governments at the World Health Assembly next month.
The compromise reached late on Wednesday envisages mandatory fees reaching 50% of the budget by 2028-2029, or possibly 2030-31, the sources said. The funding reforms have been discussed over the past year and a half and the compromise deal, which is contingent on certain conditions such as transparency measures, was watered down due to opposition from some members.
"The WHO was facing headwinds on funding - not just from the U.S., but from Russia, Brazil, and a range of others on the assessed contributions," said Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C.
One of the sources following the talks said that U.S. support had been a "turning point" in the negotiations.
Washington, historically the main donor to the agency and now its number two contributor, this year reversed former President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw from the body and has pledged more funding. (Additional reporting by Jennifer Rigbyin London; Editing by Catherine Evans, Raissa Kasolowsky and Tomasz Janowski)