WHO, China and Public Health, Part 1

Time To Clean House

ICNIRP is a non governmental organization that advises the WHO on international EMF Guidelines. In an article of April 9, 2020, Microwave News called for ICNIRP to be disbanded. https://microwavenews.com/news-center/time-clean-house

The US is contemplating the same course of action, but for the WHO itself.

-The Trump administration is debating potentially far-reaching moves to punish the World Health Organization in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including cutting off U.S. funding and trying to create an alternative institution. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/10/trump-aides-debate-demands-who-179291

On the 15th of April it was announced that the US would halt funding to the WHO. Funding will be on hold for 60 to 90 days pending a review of the WHO’s warnings about the coronavirus and China.

“Trump is right: The rotten World Health Organisation should be reformed or abolished.” https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/04/08/trump-right-rotten-world-health-organisation-should-reformed/

Is the WHO capable of fulfilling its role in public health?

The WHO “has been drained of power and resources”, said Richard Horton, editor of the influential medical journal the Lancet. “Its coordinating authority and capacity are weak. Its ability to direct an international response to a life-threatening epidemic is non-existent.” 

From 2009 onwards, the WHO faced condemnation from the press and the international community for its handling of successive crises, all during a decade when the financial and diplomatic order that sustained it began to break down.

Severe problems at the WHO:

The World Health Organisation division leading the global response to the coronavirus outbreak is so chronically underfunded it has repeatedly been found to pose a “severe” and “unacceptable” level of hazard to the organisation, recent audits reveal.

The WHO Health Emergencies Program, established in 2016, scored the highest risk rating in 2018 and 2019 because of a “failure to adequately finance the program and emergency operations [risks] inadequate delivery of results at country level“.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation revealed that the WHO is still struggling to implement vital reforms in the fallout of its widely criticised response to a deadly Ebola outbreak six years ago. As of May last year, 59 of the 90 recommendations made by its internal auditors were yet to be completed, including 38 “high-significance” reforms, some of which had suffered from “low implementation effort“.

There has also been a surge in internal corruption allegations across the whole of the organisation, including sexual harassment, with the detection of multiple schemes aimed at defrauding large sums of money from the international body.

An external committee has warned the WHO it is facing “decreasing internal control compliance“.

In 2018, there were 148 new cases reported, up from 82 the year before, an increase that WHO’s auditors said was mainly the result of increased awareness and prevention activities. More than half of these are related to procurement fraud. Including a backlog of cases, investigators were faced with no fewer than 248 open investigations in 2018. That year 28 internal investigations were completed, and in 20 of them the key allegations were substantiated.

The WHO has come under severe criticism: 

Lawrence Gostin, who studies global health law at Georgetown University, recently said the world had been “deceived” by the WHO’s decision not to declare a public health emergency at an earlier stage of the coronavirus outbreak.

Myself and other public health experts, based on what the World Health Organisation and China were saying, reassured the public that this was not serious, that we could bring this under control,” Professor Gostin told the Washington Post. “We were given a false sense of assurance.” https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-17/coronavirus-who-underfunded-internal-corruption-allegations/11970382

The WHO and China: Dereliction of Duty

The WHO’s weak response to China’s mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak has laundered China’s image at the expense of the WHO’s credibility. The time is ripe for clear leadership from the WHO based on science not politics. (Blog Post by Michael Collins, February 27, 2020) https://www.cfr.org/blog/who-and-china-dereliction-duty

Is the director of the WHO unduly influenced by China? 

Since the crisis began, Tedros has been repeatedly accused of being soft on China. “The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric,” tweeted Donald Trump on 7th April, summing up just one of the many lines of criticism the WHO is currently facing.

Dr. Tedros’ inaction stands in stark contrast to the WHO’s actions during the 2003 SARS outbreak in China. Then WHO DG Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland made history by declaring the WHO’s first travel advisory in 55 years which recommended against travel to and from the disease epicenter in southern China. Dr. Brundtland also criticized China for endangering global health by attempting to cover up the outbreak through its usual playbook of arresting whistleblowers and censoring media. 

“If the job is to direct and coordinate global health, it’s not a question of what one or several governments ask you to do.”

“We are working for humanity.”

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland

Brundtland believed that international bodies should be prepared to lead when necessary, rather than being bossed around by powerful nations. “If the job is to direct and coordinate global health, it’s not a question of what one or several governments ask you to do,” she said. “We are working for humanity.”

China was an important ally of Tedros in the WHO’s DG election in 2017:

Elected as WHO director general in July 2017, Tedros was supported by a bloc of African and Asian countries, including China, which has considerable influence with those members. (Tedros is himself from Ethiopia, where he served as health minister and then foreign minister between 2005 and 2016.) It was a “really nasty” election, said Davies,(a professor of global health at Griffith University in Australia), in which the powers that have traditionally shaped the WHO, such as the US, UK and Canada, lent their support to one of Tedros’s rivals, the British doctor David Nabarro. During the campaign, Tedros was criticised for having served in a repressive government with a poor human rights record, and one of Nabarro’s backers even accused Tedros of covering up a cholera epidemic during his time as health minister. (Tedros denied the claim, describing it as a “last-minute smear campaign”, while Nabarro told the New York Times that he had never authorised his team to make this accusation against Tedros.) In response, Tedros’s supporters mounted “a collective pushback”, said Davies, against the UK and its allies, eventually winning out. Tedros became the first director general from a so-called developing country since the Brazilian Dr Marcolino Gomes Candau in 1953.

China’s WHO contributions have grown by 52% since 2014 to approximately $86 million. China’s growing contributions come as its influence across the UN is rising just as U.S. leadership is declining. Going forward, China might appear to be a more reliable partner for organizations dependent on members’ financial support like the WHO.

Since China acceded to the UN in 1971, it has periodically blocked Taiwan’s WHO membership on the grounds that the democratically governed island is part of China. Without membership, Taiwan must rely on China’s health department for outbreak information, often with delays ranging from several days to weeks. China has been forthcoming with information during the COVID-19 outbreak, but there is no guarantee of future cooperation, leaving Taiwan in a precarious situation.

China’s Influence in Africa

China is heavily involved in Africa, using telecommunications, infrastructure projects and trade as their primary tools of influence on the continent. Chinese aid has also been blamed for propping up authoritarian regimes, constructing shoddy roads and infrastructure built by imported Chinese workers, and focusing mainly on countries home to oil, minerals, and other resources that China needs. But China is also cultivating the next generation of African leaders, with Beijing taking thousands of African leaders, bureaucrats, students, and business people to China for training and education.

The United States must consider and be prepared to conduct overseas contingency or counter terrorism operations in areas where Chinese telecommunications infrastructure is widely proliferated, thus restricting the United States’ ability to rely on indigenous telecoms.

The integrity of U.S. military communications systems that rely on 5G networks could be undermined at key phases of an operation. For example, if the United States is conducting a military operation in an area of interest to China, it is plausible that the Chinese government could leverage Huawei to intercept or even deny military communications. As noted by US AFRICOM Commander General Thomas Waldhauser, this has already become an issue in Africa where Chinese telecommunications companies are poised to dominate.

Spying allegations

“China gifted the African Union a headquarters building and then allegedly bugged it for state secrets”

In January 2018, six years after the opening of the AU Conference Center and Office Complex in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a report in the African edition of Le Monde, confirmed by the Financial Times, claimed that the AU’s IT department had discovered in early 2017 that the site’s computer systems were connecting nightly to servers in Shanghai and uploading AU files, as well as recordings from microphones embedded in the walls and furniture. The building’s computer system was subsequently removed and the AU refused a Chinese offer to configure the replacement system. Le Monde alleged that the AU had then covered up the hack to protect Chinese interests on the continent.

The allegations were denied by the Chinese government, the Ethiopian Prime Minister and the head of the African Union Commission. The incoming Chairperson of the African Union Paul Kagame said he did not know anything about it.

Global public health, including environmental health and EMF guidelines, depend on the World Health Organisation. A sobering thought indeed!

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