Who Needs the WHO

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What is the World Health Organization and Why is Trump Attacking Them?

If you get all of your information from President Trump’s daily pressers, you probably think the World Health Organization (WHO) is a parasite that is fed by American taxpayer dollars, takes its direction from China, and its dereliction is the reason why a rogue virus has ravaged the world economy and endangered the health of billions of people. So, what is the truth?

Trump’s antipathy for the WHO is best understood in the context of his open contempt for its parent organization, the United Nations. Trump campaigned under the banner of America first, a nationalistic political movement that has swept through the western world in recent years and left historic allies barely speaking to each other in some cases.  That in turn has left all of us vulnerable to a scourge that does not respect continents, let alone borders.

The WHO was created in 1948 to manage a worldwide response to public health emergencies and strengthen health systems around the world. During its more than 70 years of existence, it has been at the forefront of life and death battles against polio, Ebola, tuberculosis, and malaria among others.  And it was much quicker to sound the alarm about Covid-19 than the famously responsibility averse American president.

Covid-19 is believed to have emerged from wholesale seafood markets in Wuhan, China, in mid-December of 2019, although it could have been percolating there for as much as a month before it took hold.  The first four cases were officially reported on December 29th.  Three days later, the WHO activated its Incident Management Support Team to coordinate WHO’s response.  It published guidance on detection and testing of Covid-19 on January 10, declared it an epidemic on February 4th, and a pandemic on March 8th.

There is no need to bury President Trump under the weight of his own pronouncements, because they will live on in infamy. He cannot credibly claim that he was ready to act on early warnings when ten weeks into the crisis he was claiming it would be magically gone in April. Words and actions matter and well into April we are nowhere near ready to implement the mass testing that is essential to getting the pandemic under control.

His current criticism seems to be that China did not contain the virus, when the fact is once it was spread beyond Wuhan, it was all but sure to spread throughout the world. And if the panicked response in China wasn’t a wake-up call to the Trump Administration, satellite images of mass graves in Iran in early March should have been.

There will be post mortem examinations of the WHO’s response to the crisis, and there will be plenty of blame to assess and lessons to learn. But far from calling into question the need for an organization such as WHO, the coronavirus has made it clear that it must  be an essential player in the management of pandemics going forward.

organization such as WHO, the coronavirus has made it clear that it must be an essential player
in the management of pandemics going forward.

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