The Wuhan Health Organization
Updated: Jul 25
The recent coronavirus pandemic and its consequences has dealt significant blows to the credibility of a variety of institutions, and to say the World Health Organization has been one of them, would, at this point, be an understatement. In this piece, I will be reviewing the actions of the WHO during this crisis, analyzing the background of its most prominent figure, and casting judgement upon the criticism that has been directed at it, specifically by President Trump who has recently cut the funding that the US granted them.
The World Health Organization (WHO), according to its own website, is the “directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations system”, and their goal is “to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable, with measurable impact for people at country level. We are individually and collectively committed to put
these values into practice.” Therefore, it is only logical that the actions of the World Health Organization are judged according to the principals that they, themselves, have created.
As difficult as it is to identify the specific particularities of a new virus in a short period of time, as with any crisis, the most immediate preventive actions tend to be what determines the outcome of any crisis. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, I have decided to go on twitter and review the WHO’s initial statements and repors on coronavirus, from the time in which the first reports regarding the virus came out, up until a week later. Here’s a timeline of the most important reports:
On the 9th of January, the first major report about the virus is shared on twitter. It is also mentioned that this is a strain very common to other previously reported, such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and thus the security guidelines that we are told up until this day are also immediately reported; sneeze onto your elbow, avoid close contact with people, and other guidelines regarding the proper handling of food and contact with animals.
Despite the initial report, one day later on the 10th of January, the WHO says it does not recommend any specific health measures for travelers to and from Wuhan China, going as far as saying “It is generally considered that entry screening offers little benefit, while requiring considerable resource”. This rhetoric is doubled down a day after, on the 11th, when it is said that “WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the information currently available”. On the full report, it can be read that “transmission potential and modes of transmission remain unclear”. It is also reported that WHO has received the genetic sequences for the virus from the Chinese Authorities, and thus basing much of its research on the information provided by the Chinese government.
On the 12th of January, after releasing a report which states modes of transmission remain unclear, it is reported that there is yet to be found evidence to support the theory that the virus can be spread due to human-to-human transmission. Two days later, and already after the first reported case in Thailand was discovered, the WHO posts this absolute gem of a tweet:
On the 16th of January, that information seems to be disregarded in the report released after there was a reported case in Japan. Not only was that investigation by the Chinese authorities ignored after it was even mentioned the first time, but it is also from around this time that the WHO becomes consistent in discouraging behaviors that could make this virus spread faster due to human-to-human transmission. By the end of this week, the virus had already been spread to over 130 people in China (according to the numbers made available by Chinese authorities) and there had been reported cases in both Japan and Thailand.
The first week alone reflects some key mistakes made, but it is still somewhat inaccurate to claim that the WHO did a bad job during this period, as the situation rapidly escalated from a few reported cases in Wuhan to more than a hundred reported cases in three different countries. The quality of the response by the WHO was limited by the amount of information that it received by the Chinese authorities. Therefore, the pertinent question to ask at the moment is, how accurate were these reports?
The short response would simply be that we do not know. However, there have been a few reports, particularly from the American intelligence community, that contradict the information that has come from the Chinese authorities. In summary, the alleged contents of this report seem to confirm “that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths is intentionally incomplete”. In the meantime, China has responded to the findings of this report, claiming it to be false. It is, however, undeniable that there has been some suspicion around the reports coming from China, due to the nature of its dictatorial regime.
Beyond that, there are also questions to be asked about the number of infected people in China to this day, as it seems illogical that such an infectious disease would infect less than 100,000 people, since its outbreak was in a city of 11 million inhabitants, in a country with a very high density of population, who allegedly took about a week to initially report the disease. Seeing the degree in which this disease has become exponentially worse in countries who were made aware of its existence before any contamination, it is simply laughable to discard any skepticism towards China’s figures as ‘fake news’. Especially, as we have seen, after a specific piece of information the Chinese government gave the WHO has proven to be false.
Other suspicious reports also allegedly include Taiwan warning the WHO about a possible pandemic in Wuhan China, as far back as December 2019, regarding pneumonia-like symptoms of at least 7 reported cases. As reported by the Financial Times, “Taiwan said its doctors had heard from mainland colleagues that medical staff were getting ill — a sign of human-to-human transmission. Mentions of this warning by Taiwan are ignored in the intial reports regarding coronavirus. Taipei officials said they reported this to both International Health Regulations (IHR), a WHO framework for exchange of epidemic prevention and response data between 196 countries, and Chinese health authorities on December 31”.
How has WHO reacted to China’s actions since the first false report regarding human-to-human transmission was published?
It is obvious that the WHO remained reliant on China for information on the virus and still does. Various reports of findings regarding the mortality rate and the demographic groups most affected, for example, all stem from information given to the WHO by the Chinese government. This further becomes evident throughout the month of February, as the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said that "The international team of experts now on the ground in China is working with Chinese counterparts to better understand/address those gaps and improve our understanding of the COVID19 outbreak" On the 20th of March, WHO announced it had struck a deal with Chinese producers regarding equipment and supplies.
Apart from the obvious mobilization of resources and aid that were allocated to some those in need by the World Health Organization at the time, this organization’s priorities during this crisis were apparently to police the language around the virus. The executive director of WHO’s Emergency Program, Mike Ryan, advised in late March against the use of the term ‘Chinese Virus’, claiming “Viruses know no borders and they don’t care about your ethnicity, the color of your skin or how much money you have in the bank,” Ryan further stated that using the term Chinese virus could encourage xenophobic behavior, which is quite simply a laughable and unnecessary statement, if one is to consider the plethora of viruses that have been named according to their country or region of origin, and even sometimes named after the population that was first to report it, as such was the case of the Spanish Flu.
As far as this topic goes, it is quite simple: the WHO is not an authority to police language and regardless if this was done in order to attempt to protect China’s credibility or not, they should simply keep quiet on that topic and do their job.
Language policing aside, the WHO has been quite complimentary of China’s behavior during this crisis, and despite all of the suspicion around the figures produced by the Chinese government, the Director-General of the World Health Organization has taken upon himself to compliment China’s “transparency” throughout this crisis. It takes a huge level of trust in the Chinese authorities in order to make such a bold statement, despite the plethora of suspicious factors that have already been mentioned, not to mention the active suppression of reports from people like Doctor Li Wenliang, who first tried to warn everyone about the virus before being punished by the government for “spreading rumors”.
Unfortunately, one cannot believe these simply due to the fact that it is a supposed source of authority (the Director-General of WHO) saying it, not just because it sounds genuinely untrue, but also because Ghebreyesus’ connections to China go far beyond the coronavirus outbreak, as he has previously worked close to China when he was the Health Minister of Ethiopia, and in his bid to become Director-General of the WHO, as he was also backed by China back then.
The controversy surrounding Mr. Ghebreyesus is not only confined to his relationship with China, as he has previously suggested that Robert Mugabe, former dictator of Zimbabwe and known human rights violator, should be a UN Goodwill ambassador. Let’s also not forget that China was a longtime ally of Mugabe, an alliance that dated as far back as the Rhodesian Bush War of 1979. As with anything, it’s innocent until proven guilty, but Ghebreyesus relationship with China and the credibility of his statements have so much been put into question that it is simply unwise to take them out of the picture completely.
In conclusion, the World Health Organization’s actions have gone above and beyond what they claim their aims are, while completely failing to fulfill their own supposed purpose. As a branch of the United Nations financed by various governments, and with so much controversy surrounding its leaders and its credibility at the moment, it is of no surprise that President Trump has decided to cut their funding, as it becomes ever more unclear if the World Health Organization is indeed serving its purpose or serving the purpose of others. If this organization wants to remain credible and useful, it must now focus solely on fixing this crisis, and let China deal with criticism alone and be responsible for their own mistakes, as it should have done from the beginning. Then, and only then, the world might once again trust the World Health Organization, and not fear that it has simply become the Wuhan Health Organization.