Trump withdrew U.S. funding to the WHO as he labelled them “very China-centric” and since his attacks, opinions have been split as to who is to blame. Many have been unimpressed with the manner Trump’s administration has handled the virus. That said, you don’t have to agree with Trump to acknowledge some of the WHO’s clear failings. The world would only benefit from stronger performances from the world’s health body in place of accepting its failings.
One of the seminal reasons for the WHO's existence is to report early warnings on any new potential viruses. China has been a clear and obvious risk for some time now, as their industrial transformation has meant huge growth in metropolitan areas where live animals are sold to feed their growing workforce. In Guangdong alone over a billion chickens are raised each year. Factor in other exotic animals kept in close proximity to these livestock (in not always the most humane or hygienic places), and you have an increased chance of lethal diseases forming.
China often suppresses distressing disclosures as can be seen with the Sars epidemic. Hence it would make sense that the WHO would be sceptical of any “official” information coming from China. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director-general, and his team have failed to do so. The more we understand the virus, the more we realise there was a very small window of time to potentially prevent it spreading across the globe.
In mid-January, a WHO official stated that there was ‘no clear evidence of human to human transmission’. However, it was already clear that Chinese authorities were engaging in a cover-up as the police had already threatened Wuhan doctor, Li Wenliang with an arrest as she wanted to warn her peers of a new illness reminiscent of Sars. Dr Li died from Covid-19.
Instead of penalising or berating China, WHO actually praised the country. Dr Tedros in fact praised them for it’s transparency and went on to say boldly “if it weren’t for China the number of cases outside China would have been very much higher.”
The virus found has very close matches to Sars which was traced to civets found on sale for food to humans in China . Furthermore another strain of an influenza virus in 2013 was believed to be found in China as well as viruses that caused flu pandemics in both 1957 and 1968.
The WHO, is simply far too close to China. Its bias was evident when WHO’s Bruce Aylward bizarrely pretended to not hear whether Taiwan could be included and admitted to the WHO as they have demonstrated an effective campaign against the disease. Of course, China would not permit discussions of Taiwan potentially joining the WHO. Then there is the credibility of Dr Tedros, who when he served as Ethiopia’s health minister, was implicated in the cover up of cholera three times. It is worth noting China is a huge investor in Ethiopia too.
However, the WHO has issues that precede Dr Tedros’s time as leader. They have often advocated more panic than needed. In 2005, they claimed that the H5N1 avian flu could go on to kill between 5 million and 150 million people. The official death toll was less than 500. There was the “pandemic” of Swine Flu which the WHO were forced to apologise for as it wasn’t any more dangerous than normal flu.
In short, WHO mismanaged the coronavirus :-
WHO publicly supported China’s claim that the virus was not transmissible person-to-person
The WHO supported Chinese government in disregarding travel bans and quarantines for travelers.
They also publicly backed the statistics of China which is likely to be a key reason why many countries did not take precautions soon enough.
WHO delayed declaring the coronavirus epidemic “public health emergency of international concern” until Jan. 30.
Taiwan informed the U.N. organisation in December 2019 about how they believed that the pathogen was contagious and many WHO professionals agreed. WHO doctor, Maria Van Kerkhove, explained from the beginning that she believed the coronavirus was human-to- human transmissible but the senior WHO leadership ignored these claims.
An intriguing study conducted by University of Southampton showed that had China intervened to fight the virus three weeks earlier than it actually did, 95% of the spread could have been prevented. Had they responded two weeks earlier, 86% of the spread could have been avoided. It is clear that had Beijing taken the warnings from Wuhan more seriously and not suppressed the information given, the world would be better placed to deal with the virus.
President Trump argued with reason that the WHO “failed its basic duty and must be held accountable.” There is no nation who can hold the WHO more accountable than the U.S. as it is their largest benefactor. The president’s decision to withdraw its funding from WHO can be seen as a huge step for meaningful reform. However, the decision to freeze it’s funding has been criticised largely as it could stop delivery of medical supplies to more vulnerable countries.
That said, there are some serious questions that need to be asked regarding WHO. For example, where is the protocol for dealing with new diseases? It has urged testing as more deaths were being reported but how is this useful to western countries who we know don’t have access to these tests? It would make more sense for the WHO to have a detailed strategy for new infections and one that doesn’t mean the global economy crashes.
There are a number of questions we can ask President Trump and other governments about how they have handled this situation. However, it is worth noting that the president, though widely ridiculed, is not always wrong. In regards to the WHO, Trump’s attacks are credible.