Way back on January 10, the official Twitter account of the World Health Organization declared that ‘WHO does not recommend any specific health measures for travelers to and from Wuhan, #China.’ The tweet went on to say that ‘It is generally considered that entry screening offers little benefit, while requiring considerable resources.’ A follow-up tweet described how ‘WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on #China based on the information currently available.’
What we’ve learned since is that China was by then already engaged in a massive cover-up of the release and spread of the virus. It imprisoned doctors (one of whom would later die from contracting COVID-19) who attempted to warn the World Health Organization and the world.
On January 14, the same Twitter account blasted out that ‘Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China.’
Two wrong tweets shouldn’t call into the question the creditability of the World Health Organization, but the direction in which its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has steered the WHO, and his unwillingness to diverge from Beijing’s public pronouncements, should trouble the world.
If the World Health Organization is going to become another public relations body whose mission is to cover for the world’s worst actors, it needs to be abolished and replaced. The world doesn’t need another flaccid deliberative council whose sole intention is pleasing its financial backers. We already have the United Nations for that.
Since the coronavirus has become a global pandemic, halting the world’s economy in its tracks, Tedros has taken it upon himself to repeat Chinese state talking points about shifting blame for their own role in the spread of the virus: ‘When fighting an outbreak such as #COVID19, we must be guided by solidarity, not stigma. The greatest enemy we face is not the virus itself; it’s the stigma that turns us against each other. We must stop stigma and hate!’
This has been a familiar refrain from the Chinese state, whose government which runs forced labor and concentration camps. China repeatedly eludes scrutiny by the not only the head of WHO but sectors of the American media as well.
Since his appointment as head of the WHO in 2017, with the full backing of China and its vast financial resources, Tedros has come under fire for his role in covering up multiple cholera epidemics in Ethiopia. Shortly after his appointment as WHO D-G, Adhanom bestowed the honor of Goodwill Ambassador on late Zimbabwean president and tyrant Robert Mugabe. It was only after a deluge of outrage from human rights groups and WHO members that Adhanom withdrew the honor.
According to a Washington Post report at the time, Tedros’s decision was based partly on rewarding China for backing his appointment. ‘Some speculate that Tedros’s decision to appoint Mugabe was a pay-off to China, which worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help Tedros defeat the United Kingdom candidate for the WHO job, David Nabarro. Tedros’s victory was also a victory for Beijing, whose leader Xi Jinping has made public his goal of flexing China’s muscle in the world.’
Beijing and Mugabe had an understanding: he would not criticize Chinese colonialism and exploitation of Africa’s resources; they would support him. In December 2015, Mugabe gushed about Xi at the China-Africa summit in Johannesburg. He called the Chinese autocrat ‘a God-sent person’.
But Tedros’s capitulation to the world’s worst actors isn’t the biggest problem with WHO as an organization. WHO slow-walked its coordinated response to the Ebola epidemic in 2015, which killed more than 10,000 people on the continent of Africa alone. The whole organization is evidently unfit for purpose: it needs to be abolished and replaced. Tedros’s goal seems to be turning the WHO into another United Nations, a body that delivers impotent lectures without ever taking politically sensitive decisions. The world demands accountability and action. It demands both come from the country behind this all and its puppet leader at the WHO.