08 April 2020
New Delhi/Washington: US President Donald Trump's accusation against the World Health Organization (WHO) that it is biased in favour of China and is responsible for misleading the world about novel coronavirus has triggered a furore about the global health bodys role in spreading the pandemic.
President Trump on Tuesday rebuked the global body in a tweet saying, "The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?"
In 18 hours, the tweet garnered 405K likes, 103K retweets and around 69K responses.
Tedros Adhanom, the first non-doctor (his doctorate is because of Ph.D.) Director-General of WHO, has been at the centre of public ire for urging countries not to close borders to foreigners from China on February 2. By then, China already had over 20,000 cases of the dreaded infection.
Though Taiwan on December 31, 2019, had warned the WHO that coronavirus was transmitting from human-to-human, the WHO two weeks later, on January 14, tweeted that preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.
Amid the confusion and indecisiveness, Tedros met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing and commended China for "setting a new standard for outbreak control and for its openness to sharing information."
But he didn't utter a word about the reports in the global press, The New York Times for example, about how China was silencing and arresting critics over the coronavirus outbreak.
It was a month after the warning of Taiwan that the WHO chief decided to declare the contagion a public health emergency. By that time, the confirmed cases of the infection had increased ten times with around 8,000 people testing positive across 18 countries.
At the Munich Security Conference on February 20, Tedros praised China once again, saying that China had bought the world time. With huge number of people succumbing to the disease in Europe and the US, the WHO has now drawn flak from the US administration.
Tedros is accused of being loyal to China since the days when he was health minister of Ethiopia, seeking Chinese investments in his country. About four years ago, Tedros had identified eight industrial parks throughout Ethiopia, which, he said, were to facilitate the migration of Chinese companies to Ethiopia under the "go global" programme of China.
Interestingly, Tedros won the election for the WHO position against a well-qualified candidate even as the global media widely publicised the accusation that he had covered up three different cholera epidemics as the health minister in Ethiopia.
As WHO chief, Tedros chose dictator President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, a highly controversial human rights violator, to serve as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador. After an international outcry, he backed off from the decision five days later.
At the time, the UK-based Times in a piece had alleged that many diplomats had said that Mugabe's appointment was a political payoff from Tedros to China, a long-time ally of Mugabe, and the 50 or so African states that helped secure Tedros' election earlier this year.
The Times report said that Chinese diplomats had campaigned hard for him using Beijing's financial clout and opaque aid budget to build support for him among developing countries.
Similarly, the Washington Post's Frida Ghitis in an oped noted that China "worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help Tedros defeat the UK candidate David Nabarro. Tedros' victory was also a victory for Beijing, whose leader Xi has made public his goal of flexing China's muscle in the world."
In contrast to Tedros' inaction, the then WHO chief Gro Harlem Brundtland, during the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, issued the organisation's first travel advisory in 55 years, strongly recommending against travel to and from the epicentre of the disease in southern China. He had also criticised China for threatening global health by covering up the outbreak with the arrest of whistleblowers and censorship of media.