Trump’s blame game against the WHO: the wrong move in the global endeavour to manage the Covid19 pandemic

It is classical syndrome of hate-mongering governments to nervously seek and blame “others” for responsibilities and failures that have endogenous roots. Since the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 in the US, Donald Trump’s administration has hunted for scapegoats in his relentless attempt to shift blame for the increasing number of American deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) is only the last scapegoat in this sequence – after the Obama administration, China and the US media. The blame-game is a well-known trick, but it’s not really credible. Trump’s tirade against the Geneva-based UN health organization is totally ruthless and counterproductive, in the midst the viral storm.  

While Trump’s downplaying the Covid19 alarm and his early inaction in managing the Covid19 disease have come under scrutiny by the science community, for months now the WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been frantically calling for a global mobilization in tackling the virus. Likewise, the WHO teams have worked tirelessly to keep track of the epidemics and promote international cooperation, as well as guide countries on how to best respond (https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-re...). Health experts from all over the world have generally praised the WHO work in these unprecedented circumstances, both in terms of transparency and quality of the decisions. On the other hand, the global response to the virus so far has been contradictory and divided, with a few governments showing at times solidarity – through sharing of medical equipment and expertise – but with many political missteps and backbiting, including initial secrecy from China at the start of the outbreak. Overall, the obligations enshrined in the WHO International Health Regulations (adopted in 2005 to improve global capacity to control disease outbreaks and health emergencies, in the wake of the SARS epidemic), have been overruled by WHO member states. Instead, a viral form of inefficient health sovranism has taken over the international community since the pandemic contagion.

Covid19 is one of the most complex human crises ever, with immense economic and social consequences. Its management is a continuous learning process, at all levels. Bashing the WHO while it is engaged in a steady stream of reliable information, with the entire planet anxiously hanging on every word said by its General Director, appears a very confused and unfair way of dealing with the problem at home. This is not the time, as explicated mentioned by Un Secretary General (https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2020-04-08/statement-the-secretary-general-covid-19). The WHO remains the key global player in the fight against the spread of the contagion.

Over the years, the US has financially supported the WHO much more than China has. This is a fact. Yet, the US also has up to USD 200 million arrears with the WHO, and the vast majority of the US contributions to the WHO are voluntary donations directed to priorities set by the US administration itself. The history of the WHO shows only too well how the US governments, with the complicity of most Western countries, have contrasted the full implementation of the WHO constitutional mandate, its independence and credibility as the only public international organization working to enhance and promote the right to health. Member states continue today to jeopardize the WHO capacity to act, by freezing and containing the agency’s budget to a mere USD 2.5 billion per year. Only 20% of the WHO budget is actually managed by the organization for its core mandate. The remaining 80% is tied to providing services and implementing activities set by individual donor countries. This is the perfect recipe for the progressive erosion of the WHO role and operational structure. 

The unprecedented outbreak of the new coronavirus clearly places the WHO at the centre of global public action for health, again. It is the only entity which  encompasses the technical and scientific competence, as well as the outreach and logistic capacity, in the effort needed to contrast the virus spread globally, and in low and middle-income countries in particular. Pinning the blame for the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 on the WHO at the height of the pandemic belongs to the dystopia of anger that the world needs to heal itself from. The Covid19 may represent humanity’s unexpected opportunity, in this regard. 

The WHO is not perfect and needs to be  strengthened in its scientific, normative and policy-orientation function. It is high time all the WHO Members States understood the immense value of the organization in comprehensively tackling the health challenges ahead of us, also in relation to climate change, and support it adequately (http://g2h2.org/posts/time-to-rally). 

WHO will become ever more necessary in the future. Using governments’ frustrations as an excuse to bully the WHO’s leading role is, yet again, a historic mistake.