Special to WorldTribune.com
It’s easy to point fingers during a deadly pandemic, and let’s do so.
WHO first sounded the alarm? WHO downplayed real medical risks? WHO calmed or stoked irrational fears? WHO in this case, is the global medical monitor providing us with real time warnings and assessments.
Governments and health officials counted on the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) to be the proverbial canary in the coal mine warning us about the evolving dangers of the Coronavirus.
Instead the health monitor downplayed the initial phases of the deadly Coronavirus aka COVID-19 in Wuhan, China giving outside observers the impression that the outbreak was a small and containable blip on the radar in far off interior China.
The timing was worthy of a spy thriller; the crisis starts slowly in China’s Yangtze River valley in late November; the Chinese government in its characteristic covert and obfuscatory way withholds early data warnings allowing the virus to take root before the world really notices. Then by December early warnings are noted but the world was in holiday mode.
WHO’s in charge? Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus from Ethiopia became Beijing’s select candidate to run WHO. He became Director General in 2017, for a five-year term, succeeding Dr. Margaret Chan from China.
Timelines show conclusively that while WHO knew of the impending epidemic, it proceeded too cautiously to kick in emergency measures. Why? Dr. Tedros said on Jan 23rd, “I am not declaring a public health emergency of international concern today … this is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.” He added, “At this time, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”
Dr. Tedros stated dutifully, “Once again, I would like to thank the Government of the People’s Republic of China for its cooperation and transparency. The government has been successful in isolating and sequencing the virus very quickly.” Pure farce!
Dr. Tedros was far too late in declaring a pandemic only on March 11th.
Though the COVID-19 virus emanated from Mainland China, neighboring areas such as South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong acted with alacrity and professionalism to stem the spread.
WHO pays? The USA remains WHO’s largest financial supporter. In 2019 the U.S. contributions to WHO exceeded $400 million both in assessments (22%) and voluntary donations; almost double China, the second largest contributor at $44 million. Importantly, China has become WHO’s second largest donor assessed at 12% of the budget or $28 million. As recently as 2016 China was only paying $12 million. Ethiopia, Dr. Tedros home country, pays $48,000.
President Donald Trump has warned WHO that its China-centric actions will prompt a major review of American funding.
WHO profits? We cite the old Roman proverb, WHO profits? China now controls five of the UN’s fifteen specialized agencies such as WHO. Through its legitimacy as a supposedly neutral health monitor, WHO was able to effectively spread Beijing’s talking points to a wider audience first in the scientific community, then governments, and later via the media a frightened global populace. WHO served as China’s transmission belt for the Coronavirus narrative.
WHO suffers? Among the first was Dr. Li Wenliang in Wuhan who discovered and warned about the dangers of Coronavirus. He contracted the virus, was silenced by the police and later died. Dr. Li has since become an icon for dissidents and ordinary people for courageously speaking out. Now more than a million people have been infected; 24,000 Americans, 20,000 Italians, 15,000 French, 11,000 British, and 3,200 Chinese (if you believe the number) have died from this terrible virus. This is not the end either.
WHO’s responsible? The primary guilt lies with Beijing’s regime who spread a deadly miasma of disinformation about the virus through both its State-run media as well as the gullible WHO in Geneva. The narrative that Coronavirus came from bats offered a colorful and folkloric story to obscure the Chinese Communist Party’s hidden hand of both screwup and coverup inside China most likely connected to two research labs: The Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control.
The United States and other key countries such as Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Japan have provided WHO’s funding for emergency preparedness, response capability and expertise. There’s no doubt that WHO has positively contributed to disease eradication and control such as the fights against Polio and Malaria. Thus, the issue clearly becomes the WHO’s leadership, not its important and vital global health mission.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]