Info Service on Health Issues (Apr20/08)
Geneva, 9 Apr (D. Ravi Kanth) – The World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on 8 April called for “global unity” and an end to the “politicization” of the COVID-19 disease that has already claimed more than 90,000 lives around the world.
During his virtual press conference on 8 April, the WHO chief indirectly denounced US President Donald Trump’s remarks against the WHO for failure to inform countries in advance, as well as about, the dangers posed by the COVID-19.
President Trump threatened on 7 April that he will “put a hold on money spent to the W.H.O, we’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see.”
Trump accused the WHO for failing to adopt an aggressive strategy while leaning towards China and said “they [the WHO] called it wrong and they really missed the call.”
Despite the WHO’s early alarm about the dangers posed by COVID-19 and warning of a “public health emergency of international concern”, President Trump claimed that the WHO is “China-centric” and had failed in its responsibility to inform governments about the rapidly spreading SARS-CoV-2 virus.
During the press conference on 8 April, the WHO DG provided a detailed account of various steps and actions taken by his organization from 1 January when it was notified of the first cases. He said the WHO officials notified to all members on 5 January “of this new outbreak”.
Dr Tedros said that the WHO had issued on 10 January a “comprehensive package of guidance to countries” on how to “detect, test and manage potential cases, and protect health workers.”
The WHO chief referred to the WHO’s emergency committee meeting on 22 January after the first cases of human-to-human transmission were reported outside China.
“A public health emergency of international concern – our highest level of alarm – was declared”, he said.
Dr Tedros said WHO had organized the visit of an international team of experts from Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, and the United States in February “to affected provinces in China to learn more about the virus, the outbreak and the response, and to glean lessons for the rest of the world.”
The DG said the United Nations Crisis Management Team was activated in February to coordinate “the entire machinery” for supporting countries as effectively as possible.
More importantly, in February, the WHO issued a “Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan” that identified the major actions that countries will need to take, and the resources needed to carry them out.
After his lengthy statement of actions taken by the WHO, Dr Tedros faced questions about Trump’s comments. He admitted that he “didn’t address directly” Trump’s comments, saying that it is not correct to waste time at this grim juncture.
Instead, the need of the hour is “let’s unite, let’s unite, unity is the only way to defeat the virus,” he said with a charged tone.
Dr Tedros warned that “lack of unity” could cause incalculable damage. “If you don’t believe in unity,” he said, “please prepare for the worst [which] is yet to come.”
Asked whether criticisms from world leaders such as from Trump would chip away his moral authority, Dr Tedros said: “I know I am just an individual. Tedros is just a dot in the whole universe.”
“I don’t mind if criticisms are targeted at me personally,” the DG insisted, saying he is just “a dot” in the world.
“I prefer to focus on really saving lives – we are losing lives,” Dr Tedros said, arguing that he would not care if he is attacked personally when people are dying. He said “we are losing lives every minute,” insisting that his task right now is to save lives.
“Empathy, compassion, bigger heart, and collective action are needed at this hour,” he said.
Dr Tedros said that for the past three months, he had been subjected to various personal attacks, including that he is a racist, black, and Negro.
“I’m proud of being a Negro because a Negro is black, and black is black – I don’t care,” he said, pointing out that he had even received death threats.
But,”I will not tolerate if the whole black community is insulted (as some French scientists have sought to promote the clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccine to take place in Africa)”.
He pointed to a vituperative attack launched by Taiwan three months ago when they criticized him as a racist. (Taiwan apparently holds a huge grudge against WHO for not allowing them to participate in the World Health Assembly over the several years).
The DG said he has no regrets, “as we are capable of making mistakes.” He said “we are not angels but human beings. At an appropriate time we will assess our mistakes and improve on them”.
Without naming Trump who significantly contributed to the polarization of politics in the US, Dr Tedros said “we need national unity – unity across political lines and (we should) not use the COVID-19 to attack another party.”
At the same time, “we need global solidarity” to ensure that powerful countries lead the way, Dr Tedros said, urging leaders and governments “to quarantine COVID politics.” He asked for unity between the US and China to fight this grave pandemic.
Asked about specific complaints raised privately by certain United Kingdom officials on support received by WHO from China, he said he has a recommendation for Media: “not to add fuel to the fire and politicize the issue.”
Dr Tedros said the WHO is close to every nation and it is not “colour blind or wealth blind.”
“For us”, he said, “weak and strong are same, small and big is same, and people in North or South, East or West, are same.”
He cited the appointment of a person from the Cook Islands as the Chief Nursing Officer, saying that the appointment raised criticisms. He asked whether such criticism stemmed from “arrogance or ignorance.”
“Let’s fight hard, lets fight like hell to suppress and control this virus which is dangerous and it is like bush fire jumping from one place to the other,” he said, suggesting that it is invisible.
Dr Tedros said he is worried about his own continent Africa which lacks the requisite infrastructure to fight COVID-19. He said he is not unduly worried if the US stops funding for the WHO, insisting that he has a big agenda which will be supported at a higher level.
Toward the end of his replies, he praised the US for its generous support since the Bush regime during 1988- 1992, when it had wholeheartedly supported the global campaign against HIV/AIDS.
“With unity and solidarity, resources will not be a problem,” Dr Tedros emphasized.
Incidentally, the US has not paid its outstanding dues of $200 million to the WHO last year, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper.
Meanwhile, the US has blocked assistance program of $5 billion from the International Monetary Fund for Iran that has already witnessed 4,000 deaths. The US has also forced India to supply hydroxychloroquine, threatening retaliatory measures for not complying with the US demand.