Who is the W.H.O.?
The W.H.O. stands for the World Health Organization, an international institution with a mission: “to direct and coordinate international health work through collaboration.” The current 194 member countries (or states) participating in the organization attend the World Health Assembly to determine policies and allocate resources.
In light of the drastic medical, economic, and social impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have begun to assess how this vital organization responded to the crisis.
Who is giving the W.H.O. an A grade?
1. United Nations
Since the W.H.O. is an agency of the United Nations (an international body for peace and security), the U.N. has demonstrated its support. Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, praised the W.H.O. as “absolutely critical” to vanquishing the coronavirus disease.
2. Itself (the W.H.O.)
The W.H.O. has defended its own response, claiming that it adequately alerted the world of the virus and was “committed to ensuring all member states are able to respond effectively to this pandemic.”
China has accused other nations of “venomously” attacking the World Health Organization while seeking to expand its influence over the W.H.O.
To that end, the Chinese government has taken steps in recent years, such as lobbying and obtaining a stronghold in developing countries.
Who is giving the W.H.O. an F grade?
On the other hand, many countries view the W.H.O. response as one factor that fueled the surge in coronavirus cases and deaths around the globe. Here are a few key countries that have expressed disapproval.
China has been an influential player in ensuring that Taiwan is excluded from the W.H.O., given the long political dispute between the two countries (a complicated subject that deserves its own article!). Yet despite Taiwan’s exclusion, many praise Taiwan as one of the few places in the world where the spread of COVID-19 is successfully controlled without resorting to extreme measures.
In a press conference on April 8, W.H.O Director-General Tedros claimed he received racist remarks and death threats, saying, “this attack comes from Taiwan.” However, Taiwan authorities show Tedros’ accusations as groundless. Since then, protesters have expressed outcry on public and social media and even financed a full-page advertisement, which appeared in The New York Times on April 13.
2. The United States
A State Department spokesperson stated that the US is “deeply disturbed that Taiwan’s information was withheld from the global health community, as reflected in the WHO’s January 14, 2020, statement that there was no indication of human-to-human transmission.” The spokesperson also pointed out the W.H.O.’s denial for Taiwan to become a member state, let alone to obtain observer status since 2016, declaring, “The WHO once again chose politics over public health.”
In addition, President Trump announced that he will withdraw funding to the World Health Organization, accusing it of promoting “China’s misinformation about the virus.” He claims that an accurate assessment “would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage.” In response to the criticism from the WHO’s largest donor, Guterres noted that now is “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”
Japan criticized Tedros of being incapable of managing the coronavirus crisis. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Asos of Japan pointed out his “inadequate evaluation to address the coronavirus outbreak” while referring to the name “Chinese Health Organization,” which describes the W.H.O’s close ties with China.
Regardless of the country behind the accusations, there seem to be common themes: that the World Health Organization failed to push hard enough on China at the first stages, delayed in declaring a public health emergency, and is susceptible to growing Chinese influence. All of these factors could have contributed to the magnitude of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Who is right: the W.H.O. or not the W.H.O.?
Many see the accusations of leaders like President Trump on the W.H.O as a “coverup” to impose blame on others. But some point out that the W.H.O. had major delays, political agendas, and misinformation. One thing is clear: organizations such as the WHO must be transparent, as they are depended upon by country leaders to make life-determining decisions.