Joe Biden has said one of his first acts after being sworn in will be to reverse Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the World Health Organization. Perhaps Biden should reconsider that position.
The WHO has proven itself worse than useless during the pandemic. Part of the problem is that the organization has no enforcement powers so it can’t demand information from countries that refuse to cooperate.
China is a good example of this weakness. The WHO has been charged by its members with investigating the origins of the coronavirus in China. But the U.S. is accusing the agency of a lack of transparency that will hinder any search for the truth.
Garrett Grigsby, head of the global affairs office at the US Department of Health and Human Services, on Tuesday told the WHO’s ministerial assembly that member states had been made aware of the probe’s terms of reference just days ago, Reuters reported.
“The TOR (terms of reference) were not negotiated in a transparent way with all WHO member states. The TOR and the investigation itself appear to be inconsistent with the mandate provided by member states,” he said without elaboration.
On Oct. 30, Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, said the WHO-led scientists and their Chinese counterparts had held a first virtual meeting about investigations into the origin of the bug, which emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year.
“Virtual meetings” aren’t going to find anything. In fact, if the WHO is only going to rely on China’s input, they may as well look for a cure for the common cold. They’re not going to find anything useful about the origins of the coronavirus.
China’s non-cooperation has almost certainly cost lives and contributed to the spread of the virus. But WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been soft-pedaling China’s disinformation and lies for months.
WHO’s reticence to call out countries started with China, as the AP earlier reported. Despite a January meeting between Tedros and Chinese President Xi Jinping, information on the outbreak was still sparse throughout February. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, noted that the agency lacked “enough detail to say what has worked and what hasn’t.”
Yet at a media briefing shortly afterward, Tedros said, “China is doing many good things that are slowing the virus and the facts speak for themselves.”
So why the reluctance of the WHO to call out any country, not just China, for its response to the pandemic? Some member countries believe the agency is undermining its own authority by keeping silent.
“We need WHO to be bold and to use their political power to name and shame because the consequences are so devastating,” said Sophie Harman, a professor of international politics at Queen Mary University in London. “This is their Spanish flu moment … By not speaking up when countries are doing questionable things, WHO is undermining its own authority while the planet burns.”
Others said it would be politically unwise for WHO to be too outspoken unless countries give the agency more power and the ability to censure countries — an option that Germany and France have recently proposed.
This is a structural problem with the WHO that must be addressed if the U.S. is going to rejoin the agency. In fact, this is a perfect opportunity for the U.S. to force those reforms. We give billions of dollars in aid to the WHO. Liberals may not think it’s very “internationalist” to use America’s power in this way, but when thousands of lives are at stake, maybe we shouldn’t be so concerned about appearances. Perhaps we should care more about results than hurting the feelings of international bureaucrats.