COVID-19: India, 57 other countries demand probe into WHO’s response

Draft resolution tabled for World Health Assembly starting on May 18

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Sunday 17 May 2020
WHO's flag. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fifty-eight countries, including 27 members of the European Union, India, United Kingdom, Australia, Indonesia, Russia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea and others have moved a draft resolution demanding evalution of the World Health Organization (WHO)'s in the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The resolution will be tabled in the 74th World Health Assembly to be convened by the WHO, starting on May 18, 2020. 

It demands initiation “at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19”.

According to a reading of the draft resolution, these countries have demanded a probe into “the actions of the WHO” and “their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic” as part of the overall evaluation exercise.

The resolution says timelines are to be evaluated regarding “recommendations the WHO made to improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacity.”

The word ‘timelines’ is important in this resolution because many member states and independent researchers have alleged that the UN health body was late in declaring not only human-to-human transmission but also global health emergency and then the pandemic.

On January 23, the WHO called a meeting to declare a global health emergency. But it did not declare it and waited for a week for its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to return from China. By this time, COVID-19 cases increased 10 times and the virus entered 18 countries.

It even denied human-to-human transmission of the virus till mid-January. Studies now say such a spread started in December itself.

Till as late as February, the WHO did not support countries for imposing travel restrictions to China. When countries began evacuating their citizens from Wuhan, the COVID-19 epicentre, the WHO said it did not favour this step.

The road to declaring COVID-19 a pandemic was equally bumpy. WHO officials vehemently denied this till mid-February despite warnings from global health experts. It was finally declared on March 11.

The WHO has come under sharp criticism not just from the United States but other quarters as well for its response being ‘China-centric’. All these allegations have been denied by Ghebreyesus on several occasions.  

IHR obligations under scanner

The resolution also says that the functioning of the International Health Regulation (IHR) must be reviewed. IHR is a set of obligations according to an international agreement between 196 member states and the body. 

According to IHR, they had agreed to work together for global health security. Through IHR, every member state is supposed to build capacities to detect, assess and report public health events in its respective jurisdiction.

Its role becomes all the more important in events like pandemics and global health emergencies. The WHO plays the coordinating role in IHR. Many independent and WHO committees in the past have pointed out the inefficient adherence to this agreement by various countries.

The resolution also asks the member states and international stakeholders to coordinate with WHO and other multilateral organisations to concentrate efforts on finding the zoonotic source of the virus, SARS-CoV-2.

It says they should try “to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts”.

The scientific field missions should help in building an understanding about providing “guidance on how to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals and humans and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, as well as to reduce further risks of emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases.”

The resolution does not name China as the country of the origin of the virus, though.

The resolution, nonetheless, also noted “highest appreciation of and support to the dedication, efforts and sacrifices, above and beyond the call of duty of health professionals, health workers and other relevant frontline workers, as well as the WHO Secretariat, in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

It also demanded that while scaling up production and research for diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, it must be ensured that they are equitably distributed among all states.

It sought to reiterate the importance of urgently meeting the needs of low- and middle-income countries in order to fill the gaps to overcome the pandemic through timely and adequate assistance. 

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