The head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday (April 8), in response to US President Donald Trump’s criticism and suggestion that Washington might reconsider its support for the organization, gave a strong defense of his agency’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, called for solidarity and a stop to the “politicization” of the global health crisis, urging China and the United States to demonstrate “honest leadership.”
Tedros said he anticipated a continuation of US funding with conventional bipartisan support.
During 2019, US donations to the WHO reached US$ 400 million (S$570 million), nearly twice the country’s second-largest donor, according to US estimates. The WHO website shows the US as its top donor, contributing almost 15 per cent of the budget.
“We have kept the world informed about the latest data, information and evidence,” said Tedros, noting that Thursday will mark 100 days after China first informed the “pneumonia with unknown cause” case organization on Dec 31.
Tedros, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, also dismissed Trump’s claim that the WHO was “China-centric,” saying: “We are close to every nation, we are color-blind.”
Dr Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to Tedros, previously also defended the relationship between the UN agency and China, saying that his work with the authorities in Beijing was critical in understanding the outbreak.
“It was absolutely critical in the early part of this outbreak to have full access to everything possible, to get on the ground and work with the Chinese to understand this,” said Aylward, who led a WHO expert mission to China in February.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that now is not the time to assess the global response to the pandemic, instead calling on the international community to concentrate on working together to stop the epidemic in solidarity.
Tedros said his UN agency should carry out the regular post-emergency review of its results and draw conclusions on its strengths and weaknesses, adding: “We make mistakes like other human beings.”
He summarized his advice as: “Please, unity at national level, no using Covid for political points. Second, honest solidarity at the global level. And honest leadership from the US and China.”
Tedros said that China and the United States must follow the example of the former Soviet Union and the United States, which launched a 10-year global campaign in 1967 to eradicate smallpox, a disease which then annually killed two million.
Tedros dismissed “racist slurs” against him, which he claimed had arisen in Taiwan, and stated he had also been receiving death threats during the crisis.
“We are losing people, why would I care about being attacked when people are dying?” he said, noting there were already “60,000 body bags” after more than 1.3 million infections.
“We will have many body bags in front of us if we don’t behave,” he added.