ISSN 2330-717X

COVID-19: WHO Needs To Be Revamped – OpEd


World Health Organisation (WHO), awing of the United Nations Organisation (UNO), was established with the specific mandate of monitoring the health conditions of the world community, providing approvals for several laboratories / testing agencies across the world relating to medical procedures and appraising and warning the world as and when necessary about any development that would impact the health conditions in the world.

WHO is an organization well funded by several countries, with the top funders being USA and China. WHO has several offices in number of countries in the world with facilities and team to monitor the regional conditions and certainly, WHO does not lack adequate facilities or funds to carryout it’s mandated tasks. 

In the past, on several occasions, WHO has monitored the conditions in individual regions with the permission of the governments, if warranted by any local developments relating to health issues or disease occurrence.

Widespread criticism

At present, WHO is facing  widespread criticism amongst  most section of  world community with regard to the role played by it in handling the global COVID 19 crisis.

While US President Trump has led the criticism, the fact is that several countries in the world , except  perhaps China and Russia, broadly agree with the views of President Trump, though some of the countries  may be remaining silent for their own reasons.

Many people across the world are of the view that WHO has failed in its duty to warn the world at the right time about the impending disaster due to COVID 19, when it occurred in China in November 2019,  which has caught the world unaware.

In the absence of warning from WHO, many countries thought that COVID 19 would be confined to China and there will be little impact on the rest of the world.

Caught in controversy

President Trump has said that Director General of WHO has favoured China by not highlighting  the seriousness of COVID 19 at the right time, when it originated in Wuhan, to protect the reputation of China. A few  other countries including Taiwan have echoed the view.

In November 2019, when COVID19 occurred in China, there were lot of reports in the world media about the happening in Wuhan. China however, conspicuously remained silent and did not share the information with the rest of the world and China deliberately concealed the information and did not permit any overseas visitors to Wuhan and even expelled some of the foreign correspondents.  China informed WHO officially only in late December 2019.

When the world was aware of the Wuhan virus crisis, it is shocking that WHO did not insist that it’s team should visit Wuhan area, see the conditions and take a stand about the serious nature of the crisis. There is no indication that WHO asked the Chinese government for permission to visit the site. Would WHO have acted in the same way in the case of developing countries?

It is also asked by several people that while WHO did not care to visit Wuhan site in November/December,2019, would WHO have reacted in the same way if COVID 19 or similar type of health crisis has happened in any other country like India, Sri Lanka or Kenya.

Failed in its duty

The question that the world is debating now is whether WHO remained silent in the month of November / December, 2019 deliberately to protect the interest and reputation of China or due to its inefficiency. In either of the cases, it is clear that WHO has failed in its duty.

What is even more shocking  is that as the world is now suffering due to COVID 19 and criticisms are made against WHO, the Director General of WHO is sending rejoinders refuting the criticisms to the President of USA, who is the major contributor of  funds to WHO and have the right to ask questions about WHO’s level of efficiency.

Instead of  explaining in a constructive way by sending the team from  WHO to USA and other criticizing countries to explain as to what it has done and what it has not done ,the Director General of WHO is behaving like an average politician by accusing US President of politicalizing this issue and alleging of racial discrimination by the Taiwanese government, since the Director General of WHO is of Ethiopian origin. This has brought down the level of global discussions on COVID 19 to abysmally low level.

The present Director General of WHO is trying to twist the issues without straightaway answering the criticisms backed by facts and figures. Should CEO of UN organization join issue with member countries of UNO

Director General of WHO is an appointee answerable to UNO.  Is it proper for Director General of WHO to directly engage in war of words  with  the President of a member country of UNO? If the US President were to be criticized or censured for making allegations against WHO, it should be done by U N General Assembly and not by Director General of WHO. The behavior of Director General of WHO certainly lacks propriety.

Stand of Secretary General of UNO

What is even more shocking is that the Secretary General of UNO has simply supported the WHO and it appears that he has not cared to investigate the matter and the criticisms leveled against WHO, with any level of seriousness, particularly in a situation where thousands of human lives have been lost due to COVID 19 crisis and more people are dying every day.

While WHO is primarily responsible for the present depressing world scenario, which appears to be due to the inefficiency and failure of WHO to forewarn the world at the right time, one wonders as to what is the responsibility of the UN Secretary General and why he has failed to monitor and  supervise the performance of WHO.

UN Secretary General is expected to have the statesmanship quality  and admit the shortfall of WHO, which is the wing of UNO, instead of defending WHO in general terms. The statement of UN Secretary General asking all the countries to stay together in fighting the COVID 19 crisis, is likely to be viewed with scepticism in the present scenario. This paper statement from U N Secretary General  does not have much value in the present situation, when WHO /UNO remain unrepentant about it’s shortcomings.

Revamp WHO

Even without taking into account  such accusations of WHO favouring China for whatever reasons,  the revamping of WHO is a matter of absolute necessity now, to ensure that the future of health conditions of world community would be adequately and efficiently monitored.

It is clearly evident that there is increasing feeling amongst many section of world community that the present leadership of WHO should pay the price for it’s failure and the top office bearers in WHO should quit immediately owning responsibility for the failure, so that WHO can be revamped, which has become a matter of absolute necessity now. 

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N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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