What’s Wrong With the WHO?

For those wondering about what’s wrong with the World Health Organization, this Wall Street Journal op-ed from Lanhee J. Chen should explain the issues:

The World Health Organization isn’t just “China centric,” as President Trump called it on Tuesday. It is also broken and compromised. The WHO fell short in its dithering reaction to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which claimed more than 11,000 lives. Now its response to the coronavirus pandemic shows it is willing to put politics ahead of public health. The way the WHO has consistently acted to placate China’s leaders makes clear the need for fundamental reform.

The U.S. is the biggest financial contributor to the WHO—more than $400 million in 2019, when China sent only $44 million, according to the U.S. State Department. Mr. Trump suggested that the U.S. might hold its funding while his administration takes a “good look” at what the country is getting for its money. He and Congress should go further.

While Washington pays, Beijing works behind the scenes to influence WHO leaders. The current director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was backed strongly by the Chinese government during his campaign for the job. Mr. Tedros was a controversial pick, dogged by allegations of having covered up cholera outbreaks in his native Ethiopia, where he served as health minister (2005-12) and foreign minister (2012-16). During those years, China invested in Ethiopia and lent it billions of dollars. Shortly after winning his WHO election, Mr. Tedros traveled to Beijing and lauded the country’s health-care system: “We can all learn something from China.”

Under Mr. Tedros’s leadership, the WHO has accepted China’s falsehoods about the coronavirus and helped launder them into respectable-looking public-health assessments.

On Jan. 14, before an official WHO delegation had even visited China, the group parroted Beijing’s claim that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” Two weeks later, after China had reported more than 4,500 cases of the virus and over 70 people in other countries were sick with it, Mr. Tedros visited China and heaped praise on its leaders for their “transparency.”

Recall that China waited six weeks after patients first saw symptoms in Wuhan to institute a lockdown there. During this time Chinese authorities censored and punished physicians who tried to sound the alarm, repeatedly denied that the virus could be transmitted between humans, and held a public banquet in Wuhan for tens of thousands of families. In the meantime, more than five million people left or fled Wuhan, according to the city’s mayor. This included the patient with the first confirmed case of the virus in America.

The WHO finally declared a public-health emergency on Jan. 30, after nearly 10,000 cases of the virus had been confirmed. China’s reported figures rose in early February to more than 17,000 infections and 361 deaths, yet Mr. Tedros rebuked Mr. Trump for restricting travel from China and urged other countries not to follow suit. He called the virus’s spread outside China “minimal and slow.” It took until March 11 for the WHO to declare a pandemic. By that point the official world-wide case count was 118,000 people in 114 countries.

China’s influence is also apparent in the WHO’s exclusion of Taiwan. The WHO didn’t even bother replying to Taiwanese inquiries in December about whether the coronavirus could, contrary to Beijing’s claims, be transmitted between humans.

Last month a Hong Kong TV reporter asked Bruce Aylward, who leads the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus, if the organization would reconsider its refusal to allow Taiwan to join. Dr. Aylward, on a remote video connection, sits silent and expressionless for nearly 10 seconds before the reporter prompts him again: “Hello?”

“I’m sorry,” he finally says, “I couldn’t hear—I can’t hear your question, Yvonne.”

“Let me repeat the question,” she says.

“No, that’s OK. Let’s move to another one then.”

When she presses him on Taiwan, he terminates the connection. The reporter calls back and tries a different tack: “I just want to see if you can comment a bit on how Taiwan has done so far in terms of containing the virus.”

His reply: “Well, we’ve already talked about China, and, you know, when you look across all the different areas of China, they’ve actually all done quite a good job.”

The exchange demonstrates how the WHO prioritizes politics over public health. It has internalized Beijing’s view of Taiwan and seeks to praise China’s leaders at every turn. And at no point during the crisis has the WHO substantively investigated the Chinese regime’s claims about the virus or been transparent about the thinking behind its decisions.

As the biggest financial contributor to the WHO, the U.S. has the leverage to push for radical reform. Congress should condition all future funding on the WHO’s explaining in detail how it reaches its public-health decisions and rigorously and independently investigating the extent of disease outbreaks.

The U.S. should work aggressively to change the culture and leadership of the WHO. The Trump administration took a good first step in January by creating a special envoy at the State Department focused on countering China’s attempts to control international organizations. The WHO’s next director-general must not be a rubber stamp for Beijing.

If the WHO not only does not decrease risk but actually increases it and if it does not reduce the transactional costs of dealing with international health problems, it does not perform any function to which we should subscribe. Time for it to go.

11 comments… add one
  • GreyShambler Link

    Chinese Government operates much like the mob, greasing wheels and palms to get what they want wherever they operate. It’s human nature. Done all over the world. But, no Thomas Dewey has jurisdiction there. So the whole situation will probably deteriorate until the Chinese overstep and war comes again.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Pete Townsend asks: “Tell me who are you, WHO? Who WHO? Who WHO?”

  • PD Shaw Link

    There was a population study in Galgelt, Germany, where there was a large outbreak following Carnival. Some reports indicate 80% of the population was sampled, which appears to be incorrect, but they reported a random sample of at least 500 people in a community of approximately 12,000. Approximately 14% had an existing immunity; 2% had an existing infection. Apparently, a second antibody test showed 20% had an existing immunity, but they are emphasizing the lower number to be conservative. The fatality rate for those infected was calculated to be .37% (compared with the previous country-wide estimate of 1.98%)

    These seem to be encouraging numbers from a hot spot.

  • GreyShambler Link

    I posted an article here earlier, can’t find it now, suggesting a protein produced by the virus kicks an iron atom out of red blood cells and replaces it, rendering the cell incapable of carrying O-2. That seems fairly easy to test by transfusing healthy blood.
    My wife’s COPD has apparently adapted her body to survive with oxygen levels in the high 70’s, at least temporarily, but rising co2 will suppress her breathing and Bi-Pap has so far pulled her back.

  • jan Link

    In the wake of this pandemic there has arisen so many questionable statistics, remedies, actions, ties between people, needed versus needless economical disarray.

    First, the predictions, regarding almost everything about this virus have been wildly off. Remedies, from the correct usage of ventilators to less invasive drug remedies, such as HCQ, have almost irreverently muddled clarity on how to treat this virus. Add in the WHO, covering for China, the CDC initially retarding the private sector’s ability to fast forward testing kits, and the conflicting interests of Birx, Fauci, in being the scientific heads overseeing this pandemic while sitting on boards of the Gates Foundation. Bill Gates who just happens to be the 2nd largest donor to the WHO, is funding the Murray model being used by Birx/Fauci, and is now funding the HCQ trials going on in NY – a drug being slow-walked for immediate use by Fauci until trials are completed, that are still years away. Gates is also building 7 vaccine labs in order to produce a vaccine whose use might be mandated in the future.

    The backdrop of this virus, how it’s being covered by the media, managed by medical “experts,” and then foisted upon the public, constructing a “protective” police state around them on their behalf, is more than scary. Congress seems to be further exploiting the churned up anxiousness, demanding changes to voting and cash grants to the arts etc., to garner bipartisan cooperation to pass small business aid packages. We just talked to a friend/Innkeeper in N. CA, closed down, but still attempting to keep her paycheck-to-paycheck staff in survival mode by fundraising money for food banks, while having to refinance her business in order to refund 2 1/2 months worth of reservations and 2 weddings.

    None of this makes a lot of sense to me right now.

  • steve Link

    1) This guy loses a lot of credibility with his comments about Ebola. Stopping the Ebola outbreak in a bunch of third world countries was pretty remarkable. His obvious goal here is to just attack the Obama admin.

    2) In short, WHO either did not know China was covering up, or they knew and help cover up. There is no evidence of the latter. Most of what the guy cites are actually problems with China, not WHO.

    3) He seems to be saying that since WHO delayed calling this an emergency until Jan 30. Really? I wonder what Trump was saying about coronavirus back in January and February?

    4) The guy is unhappy about the relationship between WHO and Taiwan. Ok, besides this guy being a paid Republican policy advisor so he has to attack anyone Trump is trying to blame, this seems to be his real beef. Here, there may be some truth.

    So in short, WHO wasn’t real aggressive about calling this an emergency early so we should get rid of them. Neither did Trump. Can we get rid of him? Please.


    PS- Almost everything jan believes is false. That does make things hard to understand. Just one example. The world of critical doctors is pretty small. They talk to each other. The ones with whom I have reliable contact are all using HCQ. It is not being slow-walked. The problem is that we cant tell if it is working.


  • Steve, what do you think the job of the World Health Organization is? What’s its purpose?

  • steve Link

    It is an international public health agency. That is a pretty broad mandate since it involves setting guidelines, coordinating international responses and sometimes direct intervention. So it can be more directly involved like with Ebola or when they eradicated smallpox and (almost) polio, or just issuing statements like “dont eat cheeseburgers and you will avoid heart disease.” They have been fairly successful at reducing measles. They also do a lot of monitoring.

    Again, their mandate is very broad. What do you think there purpose is? Are they doing something wrong by eliminating smallpox, reducing measles, etc?


  • I think the first purpose of the WHO is to identify and assist in formulating strategies to deal with emergent global health problems. Its handling of the “novel coronavirus” calls into question its ability to do that.

    Eradication of smallpox and trying to do so with measles were legitimate activities for the organization. But that was then and this is now.

  • steve Link

    It is still working on measles, so that is now. Also working on TB. As to coronavirus, as I said, we dont know if they just repeated what China said or if they knew and deliberately lied to help China cover up. Is suspect the former. Since WHO is an international agency and has no authority in individual countries not sure what to do about that. If you think they were slow in acting, so was Trump. Why do you advocate for getting rid of WHO but not Trump. After all, WHO has done and is still doing a lot of good stuff. Trump? Depends upon your POV?

    The only reason I see to trump WHO now is to reinforce Trumps attempt to blame them for his shortcomings. Or if you think they should favor Taiwan over China.


  • We have an opportunity for “getting rid” of Trump in November. IMO calls for impeachment have always been primarily theater.

Leave a Comment