Since its founding in 1948, the World Health Organization has dealt with a series of crises including smallpox, AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Zika, and a variety of influenza viruses.
Today, the agency is struggling to organize its response to a novel coronavirus that has spread throughout the world with startling rapidity. For the first time in history, entire nations are on lockdown to prevent the spread of a disease that has already infected more than 1 million people and killed more than 100,000.
As noted by cardiologist Anish Koka in his article The COVID Pandemic: WHO Dunnit?, nobody seems to be asking why the World Health Organization failed to alert us about the potential dangers of COVID-19.
“Detecting pandemics would appear to be well within the purview of the WHO, an organization that gained much credibility from its global, decades-long fight to eradicate smallpox,” writes Koka. Indeed, the WHO has a stated mission to “detect and respond to new and emerging health threats.” I would certainly define COVID-19 as a new and emerging health threat.
The WHO’s priorities seem to have shifted “from disease eradication to public health do-gooding,” continues Koka.
The WHO defines “health” as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It is the agency’s opinion that “health” is best achieved through an international economic order that narrows the gap between rich and poor.
“With these lofty goals, it is easy to see how the WHO has struggled to handle outbreaks of not-so-mundane infectious pathogens [like SARS].”
The WHO received at least two reports about SARS in February 2003, but it wasn’t until April 2003 that the virus was identified. One of the reports, from Taiwan, was supposedly dismissed because China (a prominent WHO member) doesn’t recognize Taiwan as an independent nation.
“The WHO even refused to publicly report Taiwan’s cases of SARS until public pressure prompted numbers to be published under the label of ‘Taiwan, province of China,’” notes Koka.
In 2013, the WHO actively ignored evidence suggesting that Ebola could spread through the air. Healthcare workers who followed the WHO’s insufficient guidelines on protective gear paid the price.
This time around, with COVID-19, the WHO appears more concerned with preventing panic and economic damage than with telling the truth (the exact opposite of what it should be doing).
The WHO’s first meeting about COVID-19, held on January 30th, produced headlines assuring the world that the situation in China was nothing to worry about. At the time, China had already quarantined 60 million people. Taiwan had already banned travelers from Wuhan.
As late as February 4th, the WHO continued to argue against travel restrictions and claimed that 99% of infections were in China. This was about the same time South Korea banned travel from Hubei Province.
South Korea and Taiwan have been notably successful in controlling the outbreak, with South Korea reporting 10,480 infections and 211 deaths and Taiwan reporting 385 infections and 99 deaths.
China identified and sequenced the genome for COVID-19 on January 5th, about one week after Chinese doctors warned their family members about a new SARS-like virus. But it wasn’t until March 11th that the WHO finally decided to declare COVID-19 a “pandemic.”
The WHO’s response to COVID-19 was an utter failure that spread to leaders throughout the world because those leaders trusted what the WHO was saying.
“The more important lesson here is to break the institutional groupthink that dulled our senses,” writes Koka. “If we are to avoid the next pandemic, it will be because we listen to those at the coalface and ignore the empty suits from Geneva and their even emptier proclamations.”