Today, senior World Health Organisation (WHO) officials refused to answer any direct questions about China’s delay in sharing the genetic map of the new coronavirus with them. Three questions regarding the delay were put forward during a virtual press conference on Covid-19, after US New Agency, Associated Press (AP) launched an investigation having received access to internal WHO documents into China’s reticence about providing more information on the virus.
Under pressure, WHO Health Emergency Programme Director, Michael Ryan reread a statement the agency had sent to the AP when asked to comment on the facts of the investigation. “Our leadership and staff have been working round the clock complying with WHO rules and regulations to share information with member countries on an equal basis and to dialogue honestly with governments at all levels,” said Mike Ryan.
However, AP revealed that in January, while the WHO publicly praised China and its “rapid response” to the outbreak of the new coronavirus, experts from the United Nations health agency privately complained about the lack of information Beijing was sharing. According to AP, The Chinese authorities’ strict control over information and competition with the Chinese public health system was primarily responsible for the delay.
Health officials only released the genome after three state laboratories had decoded it and only after one of those laboratories published it on a virology portal on the 11th of January. It took China at least two more weeks to provide WHO with the necessary details, according to recordings of several internal meetings, held by the UN health agency last January, at a time when the outbreak could have been drastically reduced.
The agency tried to portray China in the best possible way, in a possible attempt to encourage them to share more information. It is believed that this approach was taken to pressure the Chinese government into releasing more information without offending the authorities or harming Chinese scientists. Michael Ryan said the best way to “protect China” would be through independent analysis, because otherwise the spread of the virus among people would be called into question. However, the agency’s concern led to an unusual trip to Beijing by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leading scientists. At the end of Tedros’ trip, the WHO called another meeting, finally declaring a global emergency on the 30th of January. In his statement, Tedros thanked China deeply for their help, but failed to mention any previous WHO frustration at lack of information.
Moreover, the organisation must have been worried about the delays as Ryan admitted while attending an internal meeting that the ‘danger is that, despite our good intentions there will be many fingers pointed at WHO if something happens.’
Asked to confirm the statements attributed to him in the AP investigation, neither Michael Ryan or WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus answered the questions, neither did they respond when asked if the disclosure of these revelations would have any effect on the current China/WHO relationship.
This is not the first time that the World Health Organisation has come under fire. In May 2017 the New York Times ran an article stating that in 2006, 2009 and 2011 Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had covered up three cholera epidemics in his home country, Ethiopia, while acting as Health Minister. According to reports he attributed the outbreaks to ‘acute watery diarrhoea.’ It was later disclosed that senior officials were pressurising aid agencies against using the word ‘cholera’ or reporting on the actual number of deaths.
Unfortunately, the World Health Organisation can only report on the information that it is given, and in the past countries have refused to declare the actual seriousness of an outbreak for fear of loss of tourism, travel restrictions, dwindling exports and national pride.
info at madeira-weekly.com