Even as countries around the globe are engaged in battling the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, questions are being raised at the efficacy of the World Health Organization (WHO) -- a specialized agency of the UN responsible for international public health.
While the patient zero, Wei Guixian, reported infected lungs last year on Dec. 10 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it took the world body almost three months to declare the disease a global pandemic and nearly a month to recognize it as an international medical emergency. Therefore, it took considerable time for the WHO and then to the member countries to issue guidelines about social distancing and quarantine.
The timeline of the WHO actions accessed by Anadolu Agency from open sources suggests that the WHO and Chinese health experts had met in Beijing on Jan. 28.
It was only after this meeting that two days later the world health body declared an international health emergency. It also issued guidelines that early detection, isolation treatment of cases, contact tracing and social distancing could interrupt the spread of the virus.
Further, when the WHO took cognizance of the cluster of cases on Jan. 4, it was not sure about the nature of the disease. Five days later China reported first death. On January 10, the WHO issued guidance and a travel advisory first time. China had informed the WHO office on Dec. 31 about the outbreak of this new disease.
On the same day, health officials of Taiwan had also informed the WHO that the disease was transmitted from humans to humans in China.
But it took another 14 days for the WHO to admit that the disease was transmitted through humans. A day earlier, the first case of COVID-19 was reported outside China in Bangkok. The patient had traveled to Wuhan. On Jan. 21, the WHO experts made field visits to Wuhan and on the same day, the U.S. reported its first case.
On Jan. 21, the WHO arranged the first meeting of its emergency committee but concluded that it was too early to call it a public health emergency of international concern. While Wuhan was being put under lockdown, 5 million people were allowed to leave the city without screening. The WHO declared a public health emergency only on Jan. 30, but still did not recognize the enormity of the epidemic.
On Feb. 3, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said there was no need for international trade and travel restrictions. At the Munich Security Conference, Ghebreyesus praised the Chinese efforts of containing the disease and said that so far outside China, his organization has not seen widespread community transmission.
WHO issues guidelines
On Feb. 11, the disease was named COVID-19. Six days later the WHO issued guidelines about mass gathering and taking care of travelers. A day earlier its investigating team led by Dr. Bruce Aylward had reached China. On Feb. 29, it advised about trade and travel restrictions to countries facing the COVID-19 outbreak and recommended that sick and old persons should delay travel. On March 11, the world body finally declared the COVID-19 a global pandemic, three months after the first case was reported in Wuhan.
The world also started taking the outbreak seriously after the WHO on Feb. 17 issued guidelines on mass gatherings. When the UN secretary-general met the WHO officials on Feb. 24, the situation had worsened in Europe. The WHO-led health experts took a field trip to Italy around the same time. They also took a field trip to Iran on March 2, which had become one of the worst-hit countries.
Since originating in Wuhan, China last December, the virus has spread to at least 184 countries and regions, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Almost 1.36 million cases have been reported worldwide, with the global death toll nearly 76,000, and more than 291,000 recoveries.