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WHO's COVID-19 log: Conflicts, questions, chaos and US

Trust in WHO shaken by spread of coronavirus outbreak

Bayram Altug   | 19.04.2020
WHO's COVID-19 log: Conflicts, questions, chaos and US


Established in 1948 as a specialized agency of the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO) is going through a most difficult period with its trust shaken by the global coronavirus pandemic. 

Currently, the WHO is the only international health platform that the world's 7.7 billion people can trust.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused the biggest health crisis witnessed by humanity since World War II, has turned WHO into a target board.

Fear of the pandemic across the world brought culminated in an effort to find a scapegoat, with the eyes of many turning to WHO and China, where the virus was first reported.

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused China and the WHO of not informing the world on time of the risks posed by the virus in late December when it first appeared.

During a White House coronavirus news conference earlier this week, Trump announced he was immediately suspending funding to the WHO for its role in "severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus."

"Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China's lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death," Trump said Tuesday.

WHO chief assumed position 4 years ago

WHO, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, has 150 offices and around 7,000 employees worldwide.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected for five years on May 23, 2017, and took office on July 1.

The UN Geneva office celebrated Tedros’ election with great enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, some international journalists called the newly elected WHO head a person backed by Bill Gates.

Before his WHO career, Tedros served as the health minister in Ethiopia in 2005-2012, and then assumed the post of foreign minister in 2012-2016 .

How much is US contribution to WHO budget?

WHO's 194 member states and voluntary organizations fund the UN health agency in two ways -- "taxed contributions" and "voluntary contributions."

Member countries pay WHO's annual membership fee based on their population and economic scope. These fees correspond to about 17% of the organization's budget.

In the organization's two-year budget calendar, the 2020-2021 budget was determined as approximately $4.5 billion, with an increase of 9% compared to the previous period.

The U.S. funds nearly 14.67% of WHO's annual budget, and its annual aid is around $412 million.

While the determined contribution of the U.S. tops $118 million annually, the remaining $300 million consists of voluntary contributions to WHO.

Bill Gates might be WHO's number one financier

The U.S., the largest financier of the organization, contributed more than $800 million at the end of 2019 for the 2018-2019 budget period. The U.S. was followed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.K. and Germany. 

China, which recently became a target of criticism, is 49th among the top financiers, with a 0.21% contribution corresponding to $43 million. About $38 million of this amount consists of compulsory payments.

Bill Gates is expected to be the number one financier of WHO if the U.S. stops financial aid.

WHO accuses Trump of ‘politicizing’ COVID-19

Tedros, who has become the target board of the U.S. administration, uses a "cautious" and "temperate" language against Trump's "heavy" and "endless" accusations.

The WHO chief emphasizes that the pandemic should not be politicized, rather than responding to Trump's claims in concrete terms.

Is Trump right in his charges against WHO?

Facing criticism from many countries, especially from the U.S., Japan and Taiwan, WHO is accused of making "late" and "contradictory" decisions regarding the crisis.

The process followed by WHO on the outbreak that occurred on December 1 last year in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province, proceeded as follows:

Jan. 14: In a post made by WHO's Twitter account citing Chinese officials, it was claimed that there was no concrete evidence that COVID-19 was transmitted from a person to person.

Jan. 20: WHO announces that the virus has mainly passed from animal to human, adding it can be passed from person to person in close contact, albeit a limited number.

Jan. 21: The number of people who lost their lives in China climbs to 6. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ging Shuang says WHO and related countries have been informed about the outbreak since the virus appeared.

Jan. 23: Tedros says that it is early to announce an "international public health emergency" related to the virus that is spreading rapidly in China, adding that there is insufficient "evidence" for that.

Jan. 24: Tedros says the UN health agency “is confident in China's epidemic prevention and control ability” after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing. He says WHO is ready to supply China with what they need on this matter.

Jan. 29: Immediately after his visit to China, the WHO head warns that 6,065 cases were confirmed in the country and 132 people lost their lives, adding that the pandemic's potential to spread is very high.

Jan. 30: WHO declares an "international public health emergency" on the COVID-19 outbreak. “The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China, but what is happening in other countries; our greatest concern is the potential of the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, which are ill prepared to deal with it,” Tedros says.

He says there was no reason to restrict trade activities and travels to China, adding the emergency declaration is not a vote of mistrust towards China and that the country's fight against the virus is above expectations.

Jan. 31: Despite a global emergency declared, WHO calls for not closing the borders with China. There is a “huge reason to keep official border crossings open” to avoid people entering irregularly and going unchecked for symptoms, WHO Spokesperson Christian Lindmeier tells a Geneva briefing, adding that WHO is not recommending any international trade or travel restrictions to be imposed on China.

Feb. 3: Tedros reiterated that they are against trade and travel restrictions against China.

Feb. 11: WHO named the new type of coronavirus in China as COVID-19.

Feb. 22: Tedros calls for $675 million aid to the international community for a more effective fight against the virus.

Feb. 26: WHO head says they are "deeply concerned" with the "sudden" increase of COVID-19 cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea, but adds they are against the use of the word "epidemic" for the coronavirus.

Feb. 27: Tedros says the virus has reached a "determining point" with the recent emergence of COVID-19 cases in countries outside of China.

Feb. 28: WHO rises the global risk level for COVID-19 from "high" to "very high".

March 2: Tedros says COVID-19 spreads much faster in countries outside of China, turning the world into an "unchartered territory."

March 6: The WHO chief announces that the total number of cases reached 100,000. He recommends all countries to make "restrictions" the highest priority. "We’re calling on every country to act with speed, scale and clear-minded determination."

March 9: Tedros states the outbreak has spread to many countries, adding that "the threat of a pandemic has become very real."

March 11: WHO declares the outbreak a global pandemic.

March 12: Tedros claims COVID-19 is a "controllable pandemic."

March 13: The organization reports that Europe is now the epicenter of the pandemic crisis.

March 18: Tedros says physical measures such as the cancellation of sports events, concerts and other major meetings can slow the spread of the outbreak.

March 20: He announces that they have contacted some companies that agreed to supply medical equipment from China to WHO.

March 24: WHO Spokesperson Margaret Harris says the U.S. may be the new epicenter of the outbreak.

March 27: Tedros announces that it will be necessary to wait a minimum of 12-18 months for the COVID-19 vaccine.

March 31: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the world is facing the toughest crisis since World War II due to the pandemic.

April 1: Tedros says the world has never faced such a pandemic, adding it is an unknown and dangerous virus. "I am deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection.”

April 8: Referring to Trump's accusations of failing to fight the virus, Ghebreyesus says: "Please don't politicize this virus. If you want to be exploited and if you want to have many more body bags, then you [politicize the virus]." The WHO head says there are many other issues that leaders can prove themselves instead of politicizing COVID-19.

April 13: Regarding Trump's announcement that the U.S. will suspend the funds to WHO, and accusing the WHO head of "pro-China" bias, Tedros says: "What I know is that he is supportive, and I hope the funding to WHO will continue. The relationships that we have is very good, and we hope this will continue."

April 15: Tedros, who stated that the U.S. is a long-lasting and generous friend for WHO, says he regrets Trump's decision to halt funding the international health agency. 

April 17: WHO Spokesperson Harris avoids answering question on Trump's charges against the organization, saying the U.S. has been a “fantastic partner” in addition to being the largest donor to the WHO.

Looking at the chronological explanations, it is understood that there is a basis for intense criticism and accusations against WHO.

International pandemic experts argue if WHO had made a call to China to "closing its borders to the outside world" when the "global emergency" was declared for COVID-19 on Jan. 30, the world would not be in the grip of a global epidemic.

In order for the organization to regain the trust of the whole world, it seems inevitable that WHO should "prove its worth" in the next period of the pandemic, as well as it should accelerate the vaccination studies and enter a new reform process when the world returns to normal.

*Writing by Jeyhun Aliyev from Ankara

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