Sunday, February 09, 2020

World Health Organization Never Held China Accountable

WaPo |  As a mysterious virus spread through Wuhan last month, the World Health Organization had a message: China has got this.

And as the coronavirus swept across the Chinese heartland and jumped to other nations, WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, applauded the “transparency” of the Chinese response.

Even as evidence mounted that Chinese officials had silenced whistleblowers and undercounted cases, Tedros took a moment to extol the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Now — more than a month into an escalating global health crisis — there are questions about whether the WHO’s praise in the early weeks created a false sense of security that potentially spurred the virus’s spread.

Some experts have defended the comments as sound strategy.

“WHO has really tricky balancing act,” said Devi Sridhar, a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh. “If that means praising China publicly, that’s what he has to do.”

Others worried that it could shake faith in the U.N. body.

Praising China’s leaders “is not a bad idea, but do you want to do it in a professional and credible way,” said the Council on Foreign Relations’ Huang.

For now, WHO seems to be sticking with the strategy.

At a new conference on Thursday, Tedros was asked, again, about China, including the death of one of the Chinese doctors who sounded the alarm on the virus, only to be detained by police. (He later died of the virus.)

He first deferred to a colleague, then took the chance to speak again, defending China’s handling of the epidemic. “It is very difficult, given the facts,” he said, “to say that China was hiding.”