When the first report of COVID-19 came to light, both ambiguity, anxiety and uncertainty went hand in hand as more information (and misinformation) circulated just as quickly as toilet paper sold out in grocery stores. As the world sought answers from medical globalist organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the pressure to respond quickly and drastically skyrocketed.
The infamous song “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by the Baha Men comes to mind. But if we revised it to more relevant, contextual lyrics, it would be, “WHO let the COVID out?” To find the answer, one need not look farther than the first word of the question: the WHO and its nefarious ally China as its co-culprit. Many late-night talk show hosts and reporters have been quick to criticize President Donald Trump’s promptness to respond to the pandemic. However, we must instead step back and assess culpability impartially from the beginning of the outbreak to the present. It’s time to seriously question the WHO’s effectiveness and highlight its failure to uphold its mission of safeguarding public health in order to take steps toward reformation of the agency.
In order for us to properly assess the WHO and the Chinese government’s guilt, we must first contemplate their actions at the initial outbreak of COVID-19. From what we know so far, the earliest report of the outbreak was in November in Wuhan, China. However, the WHO made its first blunder by naively parroting the strictly censored and dubious information of the Communist Party of China and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) about the virus. As several dozen cases began piling throughout December in Wuhan, Chinese doctors began notifying hospital administrators of a possible link between the unknown disease and visiting the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. The PRC, however, prohibited all public and private discussion of the disease. On Dec. 31, the Wuhan branch of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) issued its first public statement regarding the virus, announcing 27 cases of a viral pneumonia related to the Huanan market. Chinese authorities assured residents that the virus was “preventable and controllable,” and the WHO bought China’s dubious claims and refused to declare a public international state of emergency, even though China confirmed that the virus had already reached Japan, South Korea and Thailand by January.
Not only did the WHO exacerbate the handling of COVID-19 through its enabling and complicit response to China’s discrete reporting of its information, but the WHO and China already demonstrate their ineptitude through a murky history of downplaying previous pandemics, like China did with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak from 2002-2003 and the WHO secretary-general with the cholera outbreak in 2006 and 2011. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the current director-general for the WHO, the former public health minister for Ethiopia, was found responsible for inaction in responding to a previous cholera epidemic that occurred under his administration. In 2006, over 680 Ethiopians died of the disease, and approximately 60,000 people were affected that spread to neighboring countries, and repeated outbreaks occurred in 2009 and 2011. Although the Ethiopian government had easy and available access to test everyone for the virus, Ghebreyesus’s adminstration dodged its responsibility to resolve the issue by downplaying it as “acute watery diarrhea.” Moreover, the government refused to share test results to the United Nations (UN).
Granted, China did take slightly more expedient measures than the WHO with its preceding knowledge of the virus, but its vast efforts to censor information by undercounting recorded cases and suppressing coverage of journalists undermined any small efforts to combat the virus. Local authorities have suppressed any naysayers in the media, pressuring journalists to underreport the amount of growing cases. The Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center had mapped the genome sequence of COVID-19 and alerted the NHC on Jan. 2. In spite of ongoing research conducted by the Wuhan office of the CDC and Taiwan’s concerned email to the WHO about possible human-to-human transmission on Dec. 31, the WHO appeared to disregard these efforts and later tweeted a statement on Jan. 14 that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.” Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center affirmed that the WHO failed to take their warning seriously about the possibility of human-to-human contact. Although China waited two weeks later to restrict travel to and from Wuhan, the WHO refused to label it a pandemic until March 11, and even continued to encourage travel and trade seven days after China implemented its restrictions.
This drastically compares to the Trump administration, which imposed nationwide and global travel restrictions only seven days after the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was identified. On January 29, Trump assembled the Coronavirus Task Force and appointed Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar. A day later, the WHO declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — but only after a month after receiving tips from medical professionals both in China and Taiwan.
Although its mission statement exhorts to “improve health, particularly among disadvantaged populations,” the WHO failed to uphold these standards by ignoring the warnings and dragging its feet to officially declare COVID-19 a public health emergency only after 1,310 counties in 31 provinces in China confirmed cases of the virus. The media should investigate this systematic debacle, but instead, the media is condemning Trump’s efforts to rectify China and the WHO’s failures to properly inform the global community.
This isn’t the first time the WHO butchered its mission, however. During the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak in China’s southern Guangdong province, the WHO waited four months after the first case to advise airports to conduct health screenings, but the damage had already been done: 8,439 cases and 812 deaths across 30 countries were the consequences from a deadly combination of China’s censorship and the WHO’s lethargic response.
To comply with the status quo and expect anything different this time would be detrimental to the success of the public’s health not only in the U.S. but also in the international community. Why should the U.S. remain the WHO’s most generous source of funding, contributing 14.67% of its budget, if it cannot accomplish its most central goal: to protect the world’s health? Throwing more money at an inept organization will only further damage the international community. If we desire to see true effectiveness, the WHO will need to seriously reflect its priorities and take measures to truly mold into the defender of public health it claims to be. Further objective investigation should be conducted among countries to address the colossal butchery of the global bureaucracy. Until then, the U.S. is justified in withdrawing its money from the WHO until the WHO cleans up its act and affirms its liability.
Ariana Gassel (22C) is from Skokie, Ill.