TWN Info Service on Health Issues (May20/17)
26 May 2020
Third World Network

WHO: Member States reject US tirade against WHO
Published in SUNS #9125 dated 26 May 2020

Geneva, 19 May (TWN) – Member States have rejected the US tirade against the World Health Organization (WHO) during their interventions at the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA).

No Member State except the US pointed fingers at the WHO.

Member States expressed appreciation for the WHO’s role and leadership in the fight against COVID-19, reaffirming their confidence in the ability of the organization to execute its mandate of advising, monitoring and coordinating responses in health emergencies.

The US criticized the WHO and alleged that it failed to obtain information that the world needed and had delayed the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which cost many lives.

The US stated: “We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control: There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives”.

Further, it alleged that WHO failed in its mission of information sharing and transparency and called for change. It said: “The status quo is intolerable. WHO must change, and it must become far more transparent and far more accountable”.

Although the US asserted that “we need a more effective WHO right now to help win this fight and demonstrate to our citizens that we are working to prevent such catastrophes in the future”, the thrust of the statement did not reflect any sense of conciliation but rather was a threat to the organization.

This became clear when President Donald Trump used his Twitter account to publish a four-page letter to the Director-General of the WHO on the first day of the WHA.

The letter was a litany of allegations and gave an ultimatum to reform the WHO within 30 days.

Trump wrote that “it is my duty, as the president of the United States, to inform you that, if the World Health Organization does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization”.

In stark contrast, most of the Member States reaffirmed their support for the WHO and welcomed the COVID-19 resolution’s operational paragraph (OP) asking the Director-General to carry out an independent review of the WHO’s COVID-19 response.

However, they echoed the sentiment that currently everybody has to support the organization.

OP 9.10 states: “Initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with Member States, a step-wise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19, including (i) the effectiveness of the mechanisms at WHO’s disposal; (ii) the functioning of the IHR [International Health Regulations] and the status of implementation of the relevant recommendations of the previous IHR Review Committees; (iii) WHO’s contribution to United Nations-wide efforts; and (iv) the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, and make recommendations to improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacity, including through strengthening, as appropriate, WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme …”

All the heads of state who spoke during the high-level segment of the opening of the WHA on Monday extended their unconditional support for the WHO.

The President of Switzerland, Simonetta Sommaruga, thanked WHO for its untiring commitment to tackle the pandemic.

She further pledged the full and total support of Switzerland to WHO. She said Switzerland’s commitment to WHO is based on multilateralism, solidarity and international cooperation.

She further pointed out that it is important for WHO to learn from the current crisis, and have a thorough and critical review to improve the health emergency management, but also stressed the need for sustainable financing for WHO for a strong, effective and universal organization.

President Xi Jinping of China said that, “Under the leadership of Dr. Tedros, WHO has made a major contribution in leading and advancing the global response to COVID-19”.

He also stated that at this crucial juncture, to support WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle for saving lives as well, and called on the international community to increase political and financial support for WHO so as to mobilize resources worldwide to defeat the virus.

French President Emmanuel Macron, while recalling the past achievements of WHO, stated that “we need WHO for its irreplaceable coordinating role and scientific expertise and knowledge of the situation on the ground. We need a strong WHO to tackle COVID-19 and the WHO is us, its member states. Therefore, if the organization is to play its role in full in coordinating an international response to pandemics, this and others, it needs all of us.”

In an apparent response to the US, he said: “Here, we have an opportunity to provide a single united response to the pandemic free of complacency and unfounded accusations. We need to be united, demanding and clear headed. That is our duty. I therefore urge all the members of this assembly to show both responsibility and action. And I do those in the name of what led to the creation of this organization and the name of the fundamental right to all mankind, the right to hope”.

President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea signaled his country’s full support for the efforts of the WHO to develop a vaccine and treatments. He also stressed the need to strengthen the International Health Regulations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “WHO is the legitimate world organization in the area of health. We should continue to work to improve procedures within the WHO and financing to ensure it is sustainable. We must first of all combat this pandemic and put into place a solution that everyone can stand behind. We need to face together the social and economic costs and consequences of the pandemic. I am convinced that we will be able to overcome this pandemic when we work together. That will help us to achieve this more rapidly”.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the current chair of the African Union, said that “Africa affirms its full support for WHO, which has been key to guiding international response to the pandemic. WHO is instrumental in guiding information and support to African governments”.

He also said that, “We must take the opportunity to appreciate the guidance from the technical experts of the WHO and further commend the sterling leadership of Dr Tedros in these difficult times for the entire globe”.

Estonia, speaking for the Nordic and Baltic group (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden), expressed the group’s “gratitude and full support to the WHO in leading the global health response in this crisis; COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how crucial multilateral cooperation is to our collective health, prosperity and security; need to act together as a global community and leave no one behind.”

“In particular, global coordination is needed when it comes to the availability of new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments. We call on global solidarity and a global agreement among all actors to secure equitable and fair distribution, once they become available.”

Italy said that “… as regards WHO, we must ensure that it maintains and strengthens its central role, especially in times of crisis. This means that from this point forward we need to work together to build a stronger Agency, rethinking its role and operation.”

“At the same time, we must ensure that it is fully independent of any external influence – whether political or financial – that it is only guided by science, that it ensures dialogue and information sharing between the Member States and the Secretariat, and that it is transparent in its processes and fast in responding to challenges that can be vast and complex, such as this pandemic”.

Norway pointed out that, “We have had to shut down our societies. But not our hearts. Solidarity and multilateralism will prevail. Let us use this opportunity to come out as a stronger community on the other side”.

Sweden expressed its strong support and appreciation for WHO’s crucial role and irreplaceable leadership in this pandemic.

“Now, maybe more than ever, is the time to strengthen our international cooperation and show global solidarity,” it emphasized.

Denmark thanked the WHO and its staff for the tireless efforts in guiding and assisting countries through this global crisis.

It said that, “We need you now more than ever. We can only beat the pandemic if we act together in international solidarity. And with the UN system in a coordinating leading role”.

The Netherlands also expressed support and appreciation for the WHO, saying that, “Now, more than ever, effective international cooperation on global health issues – embedded in strong multilateral response and global solidarity – is crucial.”

Kenya reaffirmed its support for the WHO and its leadership, led by Dr. Tedros, “as it spearheads multilateral efforts in the response to COVID-19 pandemic”.

Zambia said that “the Global COVID-19 pandemic presents a multi-dimensional set of challenges for member states, with different impacts on the different continents and countries. Thus, a sustained comprehensive, collaborative, multilateral approach is required if COVID-19 is to be contained and mitigated”.

Japan stressed “the need for impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation to review WHO’s response, as well as to identify the source of the virus and the route of transmission to prevent the next pandemic”.

Indonesia said that, “Multilateralism should remain the platform for international cooperation”, and expressed its commitment to support the success of the WHO Solidarity Trial.

It said that it is “ready to contribute to upscaling production of a new anti-viral and vaccine [for] COVID-19 for global needs”.