Whether for Haiti cholera, Ebola or the coronavirus, the WHO leadership failed

The WHO has many skilled, dedicated and hard working staff.

But the WHO leadership and the organisation are not fit for purpose.

After the Haiti earthquake it was poorly screened UN troops who took cholera into Haiti in 2010. But the UN and the WHO leadership were more concerned with appearing politically correct and with CYA than anything else.

NY Times (Dec 2016):

After six years and 10,000 deaths, the United Nations issued a carefully worded public apology on Thursday for its role in the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti and the widespread suffering it has caused since then.

The mea culpa, which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered before the General Assembly, avoided any mention of who brought cholera to Haiti, even though the disease was not present in the country until United Nations peacekeepers arrived from Nepal, where an outbreak was underway. ……

One of the reasons the disease spread so widely, public health experts have said, is because it was allowed to; had there been a vigorous response in the first couple of years, it would have been far easier to contain, and fewer people would have died. The death toll stands at an estimated 10,000; some say it could be higher. ………

The WHO knew about the outbreak and the causes but was incapable of taking any actions which might have political implications.

The WHO was even worse with their “egregious failure” after the Ebola outbreak of 2013.

Reuters (Nov 2015):

The World Health Organization’s failure to sound the alarm until months into West Africa’s Ebola outbreak was an “egregious failure” which added to the enormous suffering and death toll, ……

The Ebola epidemic has killed at least 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since it began in December 2013. The crisis brought already weak health services to their knees and caused social and economic havoc.

“The most egregious failure was by WHO in the delay in sounding the alarm,” said Ashish K. Jha, HGHI’s director and a leading member of the panel. “People at WHO were aware that there was an Ebola outbreak that was getting out of control by spring, and yet it took until August to declare a public health emergency.” …..

And now with the coronavirus outbreak, the WHO leadership has failed again. Instead of preparing for a pandemic it has wasted time on the imaginary threats of climate change, on placating China and playing nice with celebrities.

There are three charges against WHO. First, it failed to prepare the world for a pandemic, spending the years since the Sars and ebola alarms talking more about climate change, obesity and tobacco, while others, including the Wellcome Trust and the Gates foundation, actually set up a coalition for epidemic preparedness innovation, and countries like Singapore and South Korea put in place measures to cope with an outbreak like SARS in the future.

Second, once the epidemic began in China, WHO downplayed its significance, tweeting as late as January 14 that “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus”, when it had already been warned by the Taiwanese health authorities among others of strong evidence for medical staff in Wuhan becoming ill.

The Chinese government at this stage had known for weeks that the virus was spreading, probably person to person, yet WHO then sycophantically praised the Chinese government. “China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response,” said WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former foreign minister of Ethiopia, a country run by a repressive regime heavily dependent on China. “China is really good at keeping people alive,” echoed the assistant director-general, Bruce Aylward, on 3 March.

On 29 March, a Hong Kong-based journalist asked Aylward to comment on Taiwan’s highly-successful efforts to defeat the virus. At first Aylward ignored the question, claiming not to have heard it. When the journalist offered to repeat it, strangely he said no, he would rather move on to another question. When she pressed, the call was mysteriously cut off. When the journalist called back and asked the question again, he answered a different question, talking about China, rather than Taiwan. The background here is that China is a big funder of WHO and insists that Taiwan be excluded from the organisation since it does not recognise Taiwan’s existence as a separate country. Taiwan banned travel from China very early in the pandemic.

The third charge against WHO is that it has failed before. When the ebola outbreak in West Africa that was to kill 11,000 people began in late 2013, on its own admission WHO hindered the fight against the virus, obsessed with not letting others find out what was happening. In April 2014, the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres announced that the outbreak was out of control. They were promptly slapped down by a WHO spokesman. Others tried again in June to alert WHO. It was not until August that WHO admitted the gravity of the situation.

Later WHO admitted its “initial response was slow and insufficient, we were not aggressive in alerting the world, our surge capacity was limited, we did not work effectively in coordination with other partners, there were shortcomings in risk communication.”

All of which is true again today.

The first case was in November 2019. By December the Chinese authorities knew but were suppressing the news. By end December Taiwan and others had warned the WHO about the outbreak. The pandemic was declared on 12th March 2020. The WHO will not live down this now infamous tweet on January 14th.

The Japanese Deputy Prime Minister recently suggested that the WHO change its name to the China Health Organisation.

The WHO suppresses information, and releases cherry-picked information, to suit what its leadership considers politically correct. Multilateral organisations such as the WHO (and even those of the UN and the EU) do not necessarily level up. They all too often sink to the lowest common level set by what is often compounded among the  worst members.

What is striking is that the global problem of the coronovirus has to find national – not globalised – solutions.


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