COVID-19: WHO is a failure?


When I began to write articles (China’s Menace, The U.S. a Sick Superpower, Africa: Alone She Must Proceed, and Crisis and Power), for this publication, I set out to write about coronavirus and the politics that relate to the coronavirus. Going forward, I will write on more than just the coronavirus. I will write a weekly opinion column (some weeks may see two columns depending on time, the news cycle, and editorial constraints) on a variety of topics. My articles will still be opinion pieces and political (domestic – Africa, and foreign – the rest of the world) but will no longer be anchored by the coronavirus. (Although, just so you know, the next two articles still have a coronavirus theme – the ideas were already in motion).

I hope you will check in every week and enjoy what you read. (At some point, I will provide my contact details for anyone interested in sending in topics they wish I can discuss – I know some people may agree with me while others may disagree but constructive debate is vital to good citizenship and my goal is to engage in constructive discussions of the issues of the day.)

WHOs A Failure?

As the coronavirus has ravaged the world the WHOs response to the outbreak has had its critics and its defenders: “Much of the criticism of [the]WHO asserts that it failed to exercise global health leadership and instead became a tool of Chinese politics, power, and propaganda. This critique holds that [the]WHO had the ability to question China’s handling of the outbreak in Wuhan so that the Organisation could better prepare the world for a dangerous disease – but that [the]WHO failed to act decisively.” Conversely, defenders of the WHO tend to highlight how the WHO has “deployed scientific skills, epidemiological expertise, medical know-how, outbreak-response capacities, and global networks in helping China and other countries” – defenders of the WHO “emphasise the imperative for [the]WHO to work with governments in battling outbreaks.”

I am no defender of the WHO. I believe the WHO has failed the world during the coronavirus crisis. The WHOs failure is, in part, institutional, and in other part, a result of China’s influence on the Organisation. China deceived the WHO and, in the process, corrupted the WHOs response to the coronavirus crisis. Trump has gone as far as calling the WHO China’s puppet. (Trump is right to suggest that the WHO has a China problem and is right to halt funding as a means to force through reform – is the sick superpower slowly beginning to recover? I doubt, but this could be a start, albeit a gratuitous one. And, before you simpletons accuse me of carrying water for Trump, use your heads and remember just because you may agree with someone on an issue that does not mean you necessarily support the someone.)

How did China gain influence and corrupt the WHO? Well, China “backed [Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s] bid to run the WHO in 2017, seeking to plant an ally in the U.N. leadership. Who was better suited for the role than a […] political operative with a history of covering up health emergencies? As one of his first actions at the helm, Tedros assured the Chinese that he would adhere to the ‘One China’ policy, barring Taiwanese participation.”

Tedros, “Xi’s African dummy,” a health official not led by science but by politics, has been a loyal comrade and some of his (and by extension the WHOs) transgressions are: 1. On January 23, 2020, when the WHO emergency committee discussed whether to declare a public-health emergency, international observers had definitively discredited Chinese health data. Despite this, “Tedros relied on [China’s data] in arguing against declaring an emergency – over the objections of other committee members. That decision delayed the mobilisation of public-health resources around the world;” 2. On January 30, 2020, after finally declaring an emergency, Tedros continued to lavish praise on China. “As late as February 20, he argued that Chinese actions were ‘slowing the spread [of coronavirus]to the rest of the world;’” and 3. On January 31, 2020, Trump limited travel from China to the U.S. – a decision that bought the United States time – Tedros claimed the travel ban “would ‘have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit.’” Politics, not science was the mindset – the rest of the world would soon close international borders and implement lockdowns and yet Tedros, to my knowledge, has not called the rest of the world out for increasing fear and stigma.

The WHO, as a whole, has been a loyal Chinese solider that has, from the onset, parroted the government in Beijing – “The WHO … [has been]… getting its information from the same Chinese authorities who were misinforming their own public, and then offering it to the world with its own imprimatur.” For instance, on January 14, 2020, the WHO tweeted “‘[p]reliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus.’ That same day, the Wuhan Health Commission’s public bulletin declared, ‘We have not found proof for human-to-human transmission.’ But by that point even the Chinese government was offering caveats not included in the WHO tweet. ‘The possibility of limited human-to-human transmission cannot be excluded,’ the bulletin said, ‘but the risk of sustained transmission is low.’”

The WHO and China were obviously wrong because as of writing this there have been 7.55 million confirmed cases and 423 thousand deaths worldwide. Moreover, people all over the world were forced into lockdowns (some of which were draconian and naked attempts by authorities to assert or grab power)  to help stop human-to-human transmission. The WHO failed the insofar as the WHO allowed the coronavirus outbreak to “‘spin out of control at the cost of many lives.’” Even as late as, June 8, 2020, the WHO officials did not seem to have a handle on how transmission of the coronavirus occurred. On that day,  a WHO official stated that “Coronavirus patients without symptoms aren’t driving the spread of the virus,” and that available data showed that it is “rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual” – “[i]t’s very rare.” The official backtracked the next day.

Further, the WHO has been quick to defend and publicly praise China. For instance, “throughout January, the [WHO] publicly praised China for what it called a speedy response to the new coronavirus. It repeatedly thanked the Chinese government for sharing the genetic map of the virus ‘immediately,’ and said its work and commitment to transparency were ‘very impressive, and beyond words.’” However, as noted by NBC News, behind the scenes, WHO officials were frustrated that China was not relaying the necessary information to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Moreover, “despite the plaudits, China in fact sat on releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information” – the “Chinese government labs only released the genome after another lab published it ahead of authorities on a virologist website … Even then, China stalled for at least two weeks more on providing WHO with detailed data on patients and cases.” Despite this Tedros is on record stating, in endearing terms, China has set “a new standard for outbreak control.” Further, Tedros is on record praising the Chinese government for “transparency” and gleefully claiming China’s actions “bought the world time.” Well, Tedros, Yes, China has set a new standard – a case study in what not to do – and as to buying the world time, I can point to 7 million plus reasons to disagree.

The WHO and China have been derelict: “The WHO’s weak response to China’s mishandling of the [coronavirus]outbreak has laundered China’s image at the expense of the [WHOs] credibility.” Moreover, “The record is clear: The WHO has lent its imprimatur to Chinese disinformation and blessed China’s slow response to its domestic outbreak, which likely caused a 20-fold increase in cases, according to a University of Southampton study.”

Taking the Chinese menace and the WHO to task for their handling of the coronavirus crisis is not unfair:  “Without China’s deceit and [the]WHO’s solicitude for Beijing, the outbreak might have been more limited, and the world at the very least would have had more time to react to the virus. China committed unforgivable sins of commission, affirmatively lying about the outbreak and punishing doctors and disappearing journalists who told the truth, whereas the WHO committed sins of omission – it lacked independence and courage at a moment of great consequence. In effect, China and the WHO worked together to expose the rest of the world to the virus, at the same time they downplayed its dangers.” According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the coronavirus “may never go away” – “the virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities.” The virus may be here to stay but the WHO (as currently constituted) must go away.

The views expressed in part five of this article are Nkosi Mfumu’s own opinions and not necessarily those of Business Tech Africa.

About the author: Zambia-based lawyer (licensed to practice in the State of Illinois) holds a BA in International Studies (with a concentration in International Relations) and is also a Juris doctor.

About Author

Leave A Reply