I have been one of the fiercest critic of Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the World Health Organisation (WHO) from the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic.
I am not a critic because of a personal enmity with Dr Tedros or WHO. I am critical because I am a human and I am witnessing a global unprecedented health crisis where millions are infected and thousands have died.
The one independent apolitical body I believed that the world had to save us from such health catastrophes has failed in my eyes in its core function of detection and prevention.
I was never a critic of WHO before and I have over the years appreciated their efforts in my understanding of their contribution in the global healthcare scenario.
I always envisaged WHO to be a global health tiger watching over the world; keeping the world safe from the evils that lurk within the sphere of science and healthcare, whether as an act of nature or as an act of human greed.
The coronavirus is a weapon of mass destruction. It has destroyed lives of people across the globe.
It origins lie in Wuhan, China. This is the truth!
China can deny it. WHO could for now ignore this truth and focus on dealing with the health crisis rather than the origin of the virus but it will not change the truth.
The shocking truth is that 3.8 million innocent people are infected and over 266,000 deaths as I write this article. I am certain as days pass, these numbers will only climb northward.
I know WHO is aware of this fact and is even working to mitigate the health crisis to the best of its abilities and using its limited resources due nation-wide lockdowns globally. There is no denying that fact.
But this is the disappointment I have with WHO and I say this with complete conviction. I expected a better response mechanism from WHO. I expected to see the tiger not only roar and gnash its teeth but actually bite.
I did not know before but I realised over the last three weeks in my different interactions with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and his team, that in reality the WHO is a tiger with no teeth. Its Member States apparently have pulled out its teeth and left in the UN Zoo.
It is a tiger in the UN Zoo. It has a responsibility like most tigers have in zoo – to look busy and entertain the crowds that come to the zoo. Of course like most tigers in a zoo, it will prance, gnash its teeth and sometimes even roar for you but you never really see the true nature of the tiger because it is locked up in a zoo.
WHO is a global health body that functions under the guidelines of International Health Regulations 2005. The IHR 2005 is a guidelines document signed and agreed upon by 194 member states.
The IHR (2005) is an international law which helps countries working together to save lives and livelihoods caused by the international spread of diseases and other health risks. Its aim is to prevent, protect against, control and respond to the international spread of disease.
During the coronavirus health crisis. WHO acted according to the guidelines in IHR 2005 and that has been its only defence.
In fact in one of my discussion with Dr Tedros during a press conference, he categorically stated: Based on the IHR 2005 what is expected from WHO is declaring the Public Health Emergency of International Concern as early as possible. We declared the Emergency at the right time, when the rest of the world had enough time to respond. I repeat again, there were only 82 cases and no deaths. That was enough to cut it at the bud, enough. That was January 30th and this was more than two months and 21 days ago, close to three months now.
Now on January 14th 2020, WHO tweeted : Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China.
I questioned Dr Tedros on this tweet. He explained : The rule we have in WHO and other UN agencies is when a member state reports we post the member state report as is. What we did on January 14th on Twitter is we posted China’s report as is. That doesn’t mean that we agree or we disagree; we’re just reporting what came. If India reports we post India’s report as is. If my own country, Ethiopia, reports we post the report that came from Ethiopia as is and we treat the same way all 194 member states.
But when we post their reports on our Twitter or website or wherever we just put it as is and we don’t change anything. But at the same time if we have some differences with what is reported, we can say it. Before January 13th Dr Maria Van Kerkhove and other colleagues were saying, there is a likelihood of human-to-human transmission. Even on January 14th Dr Maria Van Kerkhove and other colleagues were briefing journalists and they said, there is a likelihood of human-to-human transmission. Our guidance reflected all that.
Now according to Dr Tedros’s own admission in our discussion. He stated that WHO knew about the likelihood of human-to-human transmission on January 13, 2020 and that a colleague – Dr Maria Van Kerkhove briefed journalists on January 14th of the likelihood of human-to-human transmission. Then why did WHO wait for China’s confirmation of human-to-human transmission on January 22nd and then constitute – an Expert Committee. The Expert Committee met on January 23rd and January 24th and on January 30th – a PHEIC was declared.
Secondly, the IHR (2005) have been agreed upon by consensus among WHO Member States as a balance between their sovereign rights and shared commitment to prevent the international spread of disease. If this aspect of the IHR is true. Then why was China’s shared commitment to the prevent the international spread of disease not questioned by the other 193 states and WHO.
Information on the epidemic was notified to WHO on 3 January, and whole genome sequences of the COVID-19 virus were shared with WHO on 10 January by China.
From 3 January 2020, information on COVID-19 cases has been reported to WHO daily. Full genome sequences of the new virus were shared with WHO and the international community immediately after the pathogen was identified on 7 January. On 10 January, an expert group involving Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwanese technical experts and a World Health Organization team was invited to visit Wuhan.
In the Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – 16-24 February 2020:
The Joint Mission consisted of 25 national and international experts from China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, the United States of America and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Joint Mission was headed by Dr Bruce Aylward of WHO and Dr Wannian Liang of the People’s Republic of China.
The report stated:
The COVID-19 virus is a new pathogen that is highly contagious, can spread quickly, and must be considered capable of causing enormous health, economic and societal impacts in any setting. It is not SARS and it is not influenza. Building scenarios and strategies only on the basis of well-known pathogens risks failing to exploit all possible measures to slow transmission of the COVID-19 virus, reduce disease and save lives.
China’s uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus in multiple settings provides vital lessons for the global response. This rather unique and unprecedented public health response in China reversed the escalating cases in both Hubei, where there has been widespread community transmission, and in the importation provinces, where family clusters appear to have driven the outbreak.
Much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19 in China. These are the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimize transmission chains in humans. Fundamental to these measures is extremely proactive surveillance to immediately detect cases, very rapid diagnosis and immediate case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantine of close contacts, and an exceptionally high degree of population understanding and acceptance of these measures.
So if China did all that it could to contain the spread of the virus in China. It is difficult to comprehend what led to the spread of the virus globally.
WHO does not answer the most important question: What led to the spread of the coronavirus globally?
If Dr Tedros in his previous political position shared a comfortable relationship with China, that does not bother me. If China backed Dr Tedros to the position of the Director General of WHO, that does not bother me. That is politics! Dr Tedros was a politician first and now he occupies a professional chair.
But what bothers me is that using the IHR 2005 defence, Dr Tedros is taking focus away from the origin of the virus which is reportedly from Wuhan, China and cleverly getting our thoughts focused on dealing with the virus globally while China is getting back to normal.
Even if Dr Tedros would like us to believe that COVID-19 is a zoonotic virus and that bats appear to be the reservoir of COVID-19 virus. WHO does not answer what led to the spread of the virus globally. It is the only question in every person’s mind across the globe.
In fact Dr Tedros stated to media: World should have listened to WHO carefully.We declared the Global Emergency at the right time and when the world had enough time to respond.
I appreciate the fact that Dr Tedros had the temerity to allow me to ask my questions at the WHO Global Media briefings, as he had expressed on Twitter to me, that WHO is transparent.
But in all my one question at a time discussions with Dr Tedros during the global media briefing, I got a sense that WHO is shackled by 194 states and IHR 2005. It functions as a bureaucratic organisation. It has no decision taking powers. It cannot even investigate the origin of a global pandemic and works under the dictated of Member States. It is at best the health crisis manager, sponsorship seeker and connector of nations and pharmaceutical companies. It is not there to detect or prevent health crisis. It simply functions under reports of Member states.
If we need WHO to be accountable, then we need to make the 194 Members states make WHO accountable. No point in having a tiger if it does not have any teeth or acts like it has no teeth.
I know some of my friends in WHO would be disappointed by my views. It is not my intent to be so critical. But I am disappointed. I expected more from WHO. They could have done more beyond just sticking to the guidelines of IHR 2005 acting diplomatically. They could have questioned China. They could have got the other 193 states to demand for an investigations into the origin of the virus in China. But they did not.
The dead want answers because their lives we snuffed out and they do not even know why. There is no cure to a wounded heart of a family that has lost a loved one.
Beyond politics, beyond bureaucratic hurdles and beyond global diplomacy lies humanness. And if we are not drive by humanness, we will not care no matter how many die because those deaths will only be statistics to us.