US Secretary of Health rebukes WHO, China at World Health Assembly
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agreed to an evaluation of the global body’s response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak on May 18, 2020.
Fifty-eight nations, including India, tabled a draft resolution to that effect on the first day of the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) on May 18.
“We welcome the proposed resolution before this Assembly, which calls for a step-wise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation,” Ghebreyesus said.
However, he stressed that such an evaluation “must encompass the entirety of the response by all actors” so that the exercise could be “truly comprehensive”.
“I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned, and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response,” he said.
The countries demanded a probe into “the actions of the WHO” and “their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic”. It could be in the context of “recommendations the WHO made to improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacity.”
Many member states and independent researchers have alleged that the United Nations arm was late in saying human-to-human transmissions were possible, in calling COVID-19 a global health emergency and eventually in declaring a pandemic.
Ghebreyesus, however, countered these allegations once again at the WHA, being hosted by the WHO at its Geneva headquarters and being attended by 192 member-states virtually.
US lambasts WHO, China
Meanwhile, US Secretary of Health Alex Azar said the WHO failed to fulfil its duty: “There was a failure by this organisation to obtain information that the world needed, and that failure cost us many lives,” Azar said. He added the status quo at the UN health body was intolerable.
He even suggested that the WHO concealed critical information during early days of the outbreak to work in favour of China. Without naming China, Azar said: “In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member-state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world.”
The United States and President Donald J Trump, have been quite vocal about their criticism of the WHO and have found their views being echoed directly or indirectly by a couple of other nations too, including Japan.
However, it was only the US at the World Health Assembly which berated the WHO without mincing words.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, addressing the WHA earlier, claimed his country was transparent: “All along, we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility. We have provided information to the WHO and relevant countries in a most timely fashion,” he said.
“We have released the genome sequence at the earliest possible time. We have shared control and treatment experience with the world without reservation,” Xi added.
He also praised the WHO DG. “Under the leadership of Dr Tedros, WHO has made a major contribution in leading and advancing the global response to COVID-19. Its good work is applauded by the international community.”
Xi sought to lead efforts in helping developing countries, especially those in Africa. “China has sent a tremendous amount of medical supplies and assistance to over 50 African countries and the African Union,” he said and detailed the assistance provided.
China has steadily increased its business and strategic presence in various African countries over the last two decades.
Xi, however, said he supported the idea of comprehensive review of the WHO’s work.
Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan also addressed the WHA. He said India took pre-emptive steps and was making all-out efforts to control the contagion. India crossed the 100,000 cases mark on May 18, according to two independent trackers.
Long road ahead, says Ghebreyesus
The WHO director-general also said a large population of the world still remained susceptible to the virus.
“Early serology studies are painting a consistent picture. Even in the worst-affected regions, the proportion of the population with the tell-tale antibodies is no more than 20 per cent, and in most places, less than 10 per cent,” Ghebreyesus said.
“The majority of the world’s population remains susceptible to this virus. The risk remains high and we have a long road to travel,” he added.
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