Speaking at the Reuters Next conference, British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, Sweden's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell and Chikwe Ihekweazu, the head of Nigeria's Centre for Disease Control, said the United Nations health agency had faced difficulties in leading a global response to the pandemic.
"We need to reflect on how the global architecture can be improved," Ferguson said, including a need to rethink "the governance of organizations such as the WHO."
"One of the challenges it faces is being truly independent," he said. "Typically, it is influenced by big states. Historically that has been western countries like the United States, and now it's very much China as well - and that can sometimes prove challenging in situations like the last year."
Many governments around the world, including in the United States, Australia and the European Union, have called for the WHO to be reformed or restructured amid criticism of its response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The WHO has been rocked by a decision last year by the United States to halt its funding and has been accused of being too close to China in the first phase of the pandemic, when critics say Beijing was slow in sharing crucial information on the new coronavirus which first appeared in the city of Wuhan.
The WHO has repeatedly dismissed such accusations, and China insists it has been open and transparent.
Speaking on the same Reuters Next conference panel, Sweden's Tegnell said that in his view, "this crisis compared to many of the crises in the last decade has become a lot more politicized."
"That has made the WHO's role a lot more difficult," he said.
Nigeria's Ihekweazu said he hoped the year ahead would see the world work together more closely to tackle the pandemic, particularly in improving equitable access to vaccines designed to prevent the disease.