Before raising questions we have to take into account the case of SARS epidemic of 2002-03 and its handling by WHO and observations. SARS epidemic of 2002-03 had let loose fear, concern and death in a similar manner like Covid19. Even then, China was slow to acknowledge the epidemic domestically and failed to inform he global community about its possible spread. During the SARS epidemic of 2002-03, WHO was quick to recommend travel restrictions and criticise China for delaying the submission of vital information that would have limited the global spread of SARS. Even after eradication of SARS, WHO warned that the world would not remain free from other novel forms of the coronavirus. The then DG-WHO, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, implored the international community to investigate possible animal reservoirs that could be a source of future outbreaks and better study the movement of the virus to humans. WHO had especially identified China’s Wet Market as a likely environment for the virus to incubate and jump from animals to humans. WHO further warned that the mutable nature of the virus, coupled with China’s rapid urbanisation, proximity to exotic animals and refusal to tackle illegal wildlife trade and commerce were together termed as a ” time bomb” by a research paper in 2007. As late as December 2015, WHO put a list of the coronavirus family of disease to be included in a list of priorities requiring urgent research and development. It was earmarked as a primary contender for emerging diseases Likely to cause epidemic such as Crimean- Congo hemorrhagic fever ( CCHF), Ebola virus disease and Marbung virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Nipah and henipaviral diseases, Rift Valley fever (RVF), Zika and Disease X. About Disease X WHO said that knowledge about it not known to the world and a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease and so the R&D is required.
Now recall the role of WHO in handling the case of COVID19, surprisingly when a pneumonia- like virus was detected in Wuhan in late December 2019, the WHO, reacted sluggishly. Dr Tedros , Director-General of WHO, applauded China’s ” commitment to Transparency ” in the early days of the epidemic in January. Secondly the WHO denied evidence of human to human transmission. WHO tweeted in January 14 ” preliminary investigation conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human to human transmission of the novel Covid19 identified in Wuhan, China. Thirdly, Taiwan had critical information regarding human to human transmission which was shared with the WHO as early as December 2019, but WHO failed to act on coronavirus transmission warning. ( Taiwan was not taken seriously because of China influence, Taiwan was not given nation State status by UN due to China influence ) while Beijing informed the WHO on December 31, there are expert estimates that the virus had spread to humans as far back as October. Epidemiologists who have studied the case data say the virus could have first jumped from an animal to a human as early as October or November. Fourth mistake committed by WHO is that even after being told, the WHO showed no urgency to send an investigation team, careful not to displease the Chinese government. A joint WHO- Chinese team went to Wuhan only in mid- February and wrote a report with decidedly Chinese characteristics. Keep in mind that Wuhan was lock downed by January 24. Fifth blunder committed by WHO that, Covid 19 continued to exhibit characteristics of a pandemic, spreading rapidly around the world. Not only did Dr Tedros and his team fail to declare a public health emergency, but urged the international community to not spread fear and stigma by imposing travel restrictions. WHO has called on countries not to impose travel and trade restriction over the coronavirus, warning that such measures could increase “fear and stigma” within the international community. Sixth point to be noted that, WHO criticised preventive measures, following the WHO’ advice, The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) suggested that the probability of virus infecting the EU was low, likely delaying more robust controls by European States. Three European Union airports have direct flights to Wuhan, with indirect flight to other hubs. The world is paying the cost, early missteps by the global health body proving to be fatal to thousands around the world adversely affecting the lives of millions who now confront a prolonged tragedy that is economic slowdown. It is being estimated by the world economist that economic slowdown after Covid19 effect, will surpass all the global economic depression in recent times 2008 or 1930. Seventh but not the least failed to take lesson from the previous mistakes, WHO’ response to Ebola was similarly criticised by the international community. In the year 2014 the then DG-WHO admitted that UN health agency acknowledged ‘ nearly everyone involved in the response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall’ in the case of Ebola outbreak. This is not a first case in the WHO’s history. In the 1950s and 60s, the WHO found itself manoeuvring between the soviet led communist bloc and the US.
Eight mistake insinuates that WHO colluding with China, it’s growing clout in international organisations is creating new fault lines in global politics, and WHO has been an early victim, remember the WHO led by Marget Chan in 2013, was one of the first international institutions to have signed an MoU with China to advance health priorities under BRI. It means China and WHO to build healthy Silk Road.( Note- Marget chan, a Chinese- Canadian has strong links to China Mainland, and Present DG-WHO Dr Tedros, The Ethiopian politician Dr Tedros, was also seen as a Chinese-backed candidate) China has not only attempted to censor all official accounts of its early failings but has also employed an overt global disinformation campaign, trying to point the source of the outbreak as the US or Europe. U.S. Intelligence agency CIA also believes that China concealed extent of Virus outbreak. The WHO collusion with China must be seen as an immediate warning sign to democracies around the world. With no one to stand up to China in the absence of US leadership at the UN, Beijing is actively promoting its foreign policy initiatives, especially the Belt and Road Initiatives, through global body. This is all happening because US leadership is not very strong. under the leadership of Donald Trump, USA is withdrawing from almost all the international organisations, over the past decade, Beijing has steadily filled the vacuum in international institutions resulting from the western democracies, especially the US, cutting funding and participation in these institutions. China has increased its monetary contributions to the UN fivefold in the past decade. It is an irony of our times that the world’s most potent authoritarian state heads over a quarter of all specialised agencies in the UN, ostensibly the centrepiece of the international liberal order. With increased financial contributions and concomitant clout, China has been able to get Communist Party officials to head more than a quarter of UN’ s specialised agencies including the FAO, the International Development Organisation, the International Civil Aviation Administrative and the International Telecommunication Union.. It is an open secret among international diplomats and public health experts that WHO is ” not fit for mission” riddled with politics and bureaucracy. Given its previous failures and the warning that was SARS, it’s leadership has no excuse for reaching so sluggishly to the current crisis.