Is the World Health Organization fit for purpose?

"The World Health Organisation appeared to take declarations and denials made by the Chinese Communist party about the initial outbreak in Wuhan at face value. The WHO, one of the organisations which was created to uphold this order, has shown itself to be ineffective" - Andrew Foxall, writing in The Spectator, March 28th.

Amid the deepening crisis of a coronavirus pandemic, which at the time of writing has claimed almost 40,000 lives, questions are being asked about the credibility of the WHO, and particularly about the integrity of its Ethiopian director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

A recent poll conducted by EUToday showed a distinct lack of confidence in the WHO.

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The relationship between Tedros and the ruling Chinese Communist Party appears close: in the run-up the WHO’s DG election in 2017, Tedros was invited to speak at Beijing University where he called for stronger cooperation between China and the Global South on health issues.

China’s decision to Tedros paid off immediately: the day after his Tedros confirmed to Chinese state-media that he and the WHO would continue to support the “One China” principle, which recognises the government in Beijing as the legitimate Chinese government, thus undermining the status of Taiwan.

Indeed, the WHO's position clearly supports Chinese ambitions towards Taiwan, effectively effectively locking it out of membership, excluding it from emergency meetings and important briefings, forcing it to be reliant on a hostile Beijing for important information about the pandemic. A recent video showed WHO official Bruce Aylward hanging up on a Radio Television Hong Kong journalist, after she asked questions relating to Taiwan's exclusion from the organisation.

Tedros himself has been widely criticised for his support of China’s initial response to COVID-19, one of denial and censorship, and delaying, possibly on the direction of Beijing, declaring it to be a global pandemic even though it clearly met the criteria of transmission between people, high fatality rates and worldwide spread. The declaration was eventually made on March 12th by which time no amount of obfuscation could detract from a crisis in which in Europe alone there had been reported more than 20,000 confirmed cases and almost 1,000 deaths.

This is not the first time that Tedros appears to pay back for the support shown to him. Shortly after being elevated to the director-generalship in 2017 announced that he had chosen the ruthless dictator Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to serve as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador to help tackle non-communicable diseases for Africa, claiming that Zimbabwe was "a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all".

In fact, as many WHO member states stated at the time, Zimbabwe's healthcare system had in fact degraded significantly under the Mugabe regime.

"The Zimbabwe health delivery system is in a shambolic state, it is an insult," opposition spokesman Obert Gutu told AFP. "Mugabe trashed our health delivery system... he allowed our public hospitals to collapse."

It has been widely speculated that Tedros was merely repaying a favour - at the time of his candidacy Mugabe was chair of the African Union, and in that role he ensured that Tedros was the Union's sole candidate for the role.

Prior to taking up office with the WHO, Tedros had served as Ethiopia's Minister of Health (2005-12). During this period the country suffered "possible" cholera epidemics in Ethiopia in 2006, 2009 and 2011. The outbreaks were allegedly wrongly labelled as "acute watery diarrhea" (AWD), a move that attracted criticism from UN officials who said more aid and vaccines could have been delivered to Ethiopia if the outbreaks had been confirmed as cholera.

When Donald Trump issued a travel ban on January 31st, Tedros stated that travel bans and restrictions were not needed, and that they could “have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit.”

An online petition calling for Tedros to resign has, at the time of writing, garnered 676,427 signatures.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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