Dr. Who at the WHO?

Roy Matthews, Managing Forum Editor

Where in the world is the World Health Organization (WHO)? Surely the organization that was instrumental in stopping the spread of Ebola virus across Africa would react swiftly against COVID-19 with its thousands of highly skilled doctors, physicians, and nurses. One would think that the WHO is led by the most skilled and sought after medical professional. That however, is not the case.

The WHO is not led by a doctor, but a politician. Unlike the past four Director-General’s, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus possesses his Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Nottingham. In fact, “Dr. Tedros” is the first WHO Director-General to not be a medical doctor according to Reuters. A very successful politician, he was appointed to the health and foreign ministry in Ethiopia’s autocratic government under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who is most infamous for his leadership in launching the Eritrean-Ethiopian War that left 5,000-10,000 people dead. The war was not all for nothing however, because the inaugural Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was to be launched in Beijing and soon landed Ethiopia a $12.7 million highway system, $4 billion railway line, and the first ever Sub-Saharan Metro line in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Due to his excellence in bringing investment into Ethiopia and his success in expanding Ethiopia’s critical health infrastructure, Mr. Tedros was elected as Director-General of the WHO in May 2017.

Jump forward to our current pandemic. Self-isolation, government mandated lockdowns, and closed borders are the new normal in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. How did we get here? We all know the short of it. The coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in late autumn, maybe late November according to the New York Times. Caixin Global reported that Chinese labs had sequenced the coronavirus genome by the end of December, but received orders from the Ministry of Health to destroy their samples and not release their findings. On December 30, Dr. Li Wenliang of Wuhan Central Hospital warned several of his medical colleagues via WhatsApp about the virus. He was taken into custody by local authorities for questioning for “spreading lies disturbing social order.” Taiwanese officials contacted the WHO on December 31 that they had evidence that the virus can transmit from human to human. The WHO does not acknowledge Taiwan for fear of China and tweeted out on January 14: “Preliminary investigations conducted by Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human to human transmission.” The WHO then took another week to correct that piece of misinformation. 

Mr. Tedros then called an emergency meeting at the WHO to debate whether or not to declare COVID-19 a public health emergency. By the time of this meeting on January 23, the virus had already spread to Vietnam and Canada. After deciding that it did not yet meet emergency criteria, Mr. Tedros took a trip to Beijing to meet with health officials. After yet another week, Mr. Tedros emerged trumpeting “The Chinese government’s commitment to transparency.” “China has set a new standard for outbreak response by sharing the sequenced genome with WHO and the world.” The Chinese government did share: on January 12. The WHO only declared COVID-19 a world health emergency on January 31. Asked whether he thought measures should be taken to limit the spread of the virus the previous day, Mr. Tedros stated that “WHO does not recommend limiting trade and movement” into and out of China. President Trump does not like to follow orders, so he announced travel restrictions on China the day after.   

Mr. Tedros’ actions the past few months have shown why medical professionals, not political appointees, are needed to run the World Health Organization. People choose to forget that this is the same Director-General who attempted to install Zimbabwe Dictator Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador in 2017. Why should countries that seek to protect their citizens from infectious diseases and ensure the good health of every citizen trust the World Health Organization after this crisis has ended? Never fear, say the apologists and Chinese Communist Party officials, we will not only export our doctors to countries that are affected, but also test kits to those countries as well That would be terrific, but British, Italian, Slovakian, and Czech government officials have found that the kits they have purchased “are inaccurate and unable to detect COVID-19 in its early stages.” This was only after the Slovakian government paid $16 million for the kits. Deputy Prime Minister of Japan Aso Taro suggested that the WHO should change its name to the China Health Organization, due to its ease that it believed the Communist Party’s spin on the virus.

There is a bright spot. Precisely because it is excluded from the WHO and other international bodies, the Republic of China or Taiwan, has become a leader in containing the virus. Johns Hopkins University predicted that Taiwan would have the second most cases in the world. This week, PBS Newshour and other channels confirmed the Taiwanese government’s reported cases at just 329. Travelers to Taiwan went through temperature checks, secondary screenings, tests at airports that connect to a national database, and were transported to their homes by government taxis by themselves to ensure that the virus did not have a chance to spread along travel routes. The Taiwanese CDC even updates those in isolation through texts, where citizens can alert them to worsening symptoms, request supplies like masks, and request more information during their quarantine. Meanwhile, not only has the Chinese government covered up the initial pandemic we all are suffering from, but they choose to make a profit off of it through faulty test kit sales by their state owned enterprises.

Our current situation is deplorable, no doubt. Families stand to lose loved ones, jobs, and those who already have a preexisting condition. College seniors will not get to celebrate their graduation and say goodbye to their friends and favorite professors one last time. Our government is certainly not exempt and we have the ability to change our leadership. That’s not the case in other places however and change must come from the source of this pandemic. That means starting with Mr. Tedros at the World Health Organization and Xi Jingping’s Chinese Communist Party.