Any discussion of governmental response to the Wuhan virus outbreak that does not include an examination of the role the World Health Organization played in its spread is an exercise in futility.
As it stands, governments at all levels are coming under fire for their lack of preparedness and inability to contain the virus which is officially known as SARS-CoV-2.
The media abound with story after story about the lack of protective gear, the shortage of beds, the shortage of respirators and about front line workers succumbing to infection.
It would appear that we were all ill-prepared.
Why is that?
After all, it’s not as if we haven’t gone through pandemics before.
It’s not as if we haven’t dealt with highly infectious, lethal viruses before either.
So let’s take a look at how WHO handled the outbreak of the last SARS virus in 2003.
When discovery of the SARS virus was made, the vast arsenal of the WHO was brought into play. Within short order, the Director General Gro Harlem Bruntland made history by declaring the first travel advisory in 55 years on April 2, 2003.
Let that sink in – the first travel advisory in 55 years:
“The World Health Organization (WHO) today began recommending that persons travelling to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China and Guangdong Province, China consider postponing all but essential travel. This updated travel advice comes as a result of new developments in the multi-country outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).”
The travel advisory’s purpose was to limit the international spread of the deadly virus which had already taken hold in a number of countries, including Canada, as some may remember.
Bruntland also made news for doing one other thing. She slammed China for endangering global health by attempting to cover up the outbreak by arresting whistleblowers and censoring the media.
She had every right to be angry. The SARS virus had been discovered in China in November of 2002 but the WHO had only been allowed access to the area where it had been found in April of 2003.
Now contrast Bruntland’s stern measures, her anger, her demands for openness with the action of the current Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
While Bruntland was fierce advocate for the world and an equally fierce critic of China, Tedros is a fierce critic of the world and an advocate for China.
“Stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is WHO’s highest priority,” said Dr Tedros. “We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated, including sharing data and genetic sequence of the virus. WHO is working closely with the government on measures to understand the virus and limit transmission. WHO will keep working side-by-side with China and all other countries to protect health and keep people safe.”
Such effusive praise.
China, however, had not changed any of its old ways. It actively suppressed news of the outbreak in Hubei and was busily arresting people.
Tedros went a step further and criticized other countries and called upon them to NOT limit travel to China, warning against the “recrimination or politicization” of the outbreak.
More, Tedros did not declare a public health emergency of international concern despite acknowledging it was an emergency within China, even though it had already spread to other countries.
All of this is important because health officials around the world take their cue from the WHO. If it does not advise travel restrictions, they will not advise travel restrictions.
I know, I know. It sounds bizarre, but that’s the state of modern science. No one thinks independently any more.
Given WHO’s critical importance in these matters, it might be a good idea to ask what changed between 2003 and 2020?
There is little question that Tedros is sympathetic to China. He embraces China’s one-China policy and allowed Taiwan to be blocked from participating in the world Health Assembly.
“I think the secretariat of the World Health Organization was not moved,” Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters after the disinvitation. “We sent our good friends, especially our American friends, to speak with him to see why he doesn’t want to send letter to us. He said it’s because of China. Very clearly, he says, it’s China. China doesn’t allow him to send letter of invitation to us.”
Before Tedros, who is not a doctor by the way, became the DG of WHO he was the foreign minister of Ethiopia and while he held that post between 2012 and 2016, China invested $13.6 billion in that African country.
The Chinese also actively backed Tedros when he applied for the DG position.
China, of course, is keenly aware of what is at stake. It has been working for decades to extend its influence around the globe, to built political and economic partnerships to challenge America’s preeminent position.
That China’s influence now extends to the WHO comes as no great surprise. The international agency relies heavily on voluntary contributions of its members. China spends millions. Money has always bought influence.
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