Why the WHO obtained caught between China and Trump

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WHO HQ GenevaPicture copyright
AFP

Picture caption

The WHO headquarters in Geneva

President Donald Trump has stated he’s going to halt US funding to the World Well being Group (WHO) as a result of it had “failed in its primary obligation” in its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

However what’s the WHO and what does it do?

It’s the worldwide well being HQ

A wash of color overhead greets anybody getting into the WHO headquarters in Geneva the place the 194 flags of the organisation’s member states drape from the ceiling as – on sunny days, a minimum of – beams of sunshine flood the big open atrium.

That is from the place the worldwide response to what’s been described as “the best take a look at to the world since World Struggle Two“- is being co-ordinated.

The UN company was based in 1948, and describes itself because the “international guardian of public well being”.

Its acknowledged purpose is to make sure “the best attainable degree of well being for all individuals”.

It’s an enormous job.

During the last 11 years, it has overseen the worldwide response to 6 worldwide well being emergencies, together with the Ebola outbreak in west Africa in 2014, the Zika outbreak in 2016 and – proper now – the Covid-19 pandemic.

It additionally

  • decides when to sound the “international alarm” throughout outbreaks
  • units up worldwide analysis and improvement plans aimed toward fast-tracking new remedies and vaccines
  • sends consultants into the epicentres of illness in an effort to collect information on what works and what doesn’t

The WHO additionally has duty for a variety of different well being points, together with

  • tackling the worldwide weight problems and diabetes epidemics
  • decreasing deaths on the roads
  • wiping out vaccine-preventable ailments, reminiscent of polio
  • working to scale back the variety of moms and infants who die throughout childbirth.

However – and it’s an enormous however – the WHO is an advisory-only physique. It might probably make suggestions to nations on what to do to enhance the well being of its residents and stop the outbreak of illness, however it may’t implement these suggestions.

Has the WHO mishandled this pandemic?

It is determined by who you ask.

If you happen to ask Donald Trump, the reply is a powerful sure.

However Mr Trump himself is dealing with withering criticism of how he has handled the outbreak within the US – which now has greater than 600,000 circumstances and 26,000 deaths.

He additionally has an even bigger geopolitical struggle with China, which far precedes Covid-19.

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Nonetheless, the US chief is definitely not the primary to criticise the WHO for its effusive reward of China’s response to the outbreak which continued even whereas others – together with medics within the nation – described how their early considerations in regards to the virus had been silenced by the authorities.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director normal of the WHO, has repeatedly stated he stands by his reward of China.

He says its response helped gradual the unfold of the virus internationally, shopping for different nations time to organize for what was coming.

And he, together with many different scientists, factors out that China voluntarily shared the genetic code of the virus in a short time, permitting nations to begin making diagnostic assessments and dealing on vaccines.





Nonetheless, there has additionally been widespread criticism of the nation’s response.

Devi Sridhar, professor of world public well being on the College of Edinburgh, stated: “China didn’t do an incredible job of telling the world [about the early stages of the outbreak] and it’s clear there have been delays.

“They tried to downplay this within the early days.”

Prof Sridhar investigated the WHO’s much-criticised response to the west Africa Ebola epidemic, and describes herself as one of many WHO’s “harshest critics”.

However she added: “It’s exhausting to fault numerous what the WHO has been attempting to do, given the tough balancing act of attempting to get nations to handle this epidemic and take it significantly, whereas additionally attempting to maintain all nations on the desk.”

A serious a part of the WHO’s function is diplomacy. As a result of it may’t power nations to share details about outbreaks, it depends on nations themselves coming ahead.

Prof Sridhar stated the organisation may have gotten its “5 minutes of fame” all over the world if Dr Tedros had issued a robust condemnation of China, she says, however that would have hampered the worldwide response to Covid-19.

“What would which have achieved? He nonetheless wants to return every week later and ask China to share information.”

She believes the WHO did put strain on China to be extra up-front within the early days of the outbreak – however that it did so behind the scenes.

“I believe there’s an enormous distinction in diplomacy, between doing issues publicly with the media – which is usually only a efficiency, to make a posture – and to do issues privately and truly advocate and get issues transferring.”

What occurred in earlier outbreaks?

This isn’t the primary time the WHO has confronted criticism.

Picture copyright
Getty Pictures

Picture caption

The WHO was criticised for its “gradual” response to the outbreak of Ebola in west Africa

The UN company was deemed to be gradual to answer the 2014 Ebola outbreak, declaring a world emergency solely 5 months after the virus was first recognized in Guinea.

However in 2009, it was accused of the other – being fast to over-react on the H1N1 swine-flu outbreak, and unnecessarily declaring a worldwide pandemic.

Final week, when President Trump floated the thought of withholding funding to the WHO, Dr Tedros known as for nations to not “politicise this virus.”

He additionally stated he welcomed a evaluation of the WHO’s response to the outbreak as a result of “we wish to be taught from our errors, from our strengths and transfer ahead”.

However he stated the main focus now ought to be on “preventing this virus”.

What affect may President Trump’s transfer have?

The US is the largest single donor to the WHO, which depends on a mix of members’ charges – based mostly on wealth and inhabitants – and voluntary contributions.

These voluntary donations make up many of the company’s $2.2bn (£1.75bn) annual finances.

Final yr the US gave greater than $400m.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the UK’s Wellcome Belief, stated the WHO wants “extra assets, not much less” to sort out the pandemic.

“We face the best problem of our lifetime. No different organisation can do what they do.

“This can be a time for solidarity, not division.”

And Prof Sridhar stated the US was “chopping off its nostril to spite its face”.

“If WHO is hampered by this – its potential to answer Covid, but in addition to malaria, and TB and polio is hampered, too – we’re going to see the resurgence of every kind of ailments that we thought had been prior to now.”

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