(CNSNews.com) – President Trump should condition any future U.S. funding to the World Health Organization this fiscal year on the resignation of its director-general, to ensure the agency’s “impartiality, transparency, and legitimacy,” 17 Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Thursday.
“We understand, and value, the vital role that the WHO plays around the world, especially in acute humanitarian settings,” they wrote in a letter to the president. “At times, the WHO is the only organization working on the ground in the worst places in the world, and the U.S. should continue to support this important work.”
“However, it is imperative that we act swiftly to ensure the impartiality, transparency, and legitimacy of this valuable institution.”
Ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and 16 other Republicans on the committee urged Trump to make the resignation of WHO Director-General Tedros Adahnom Ghebreyesus a condition for any further FY 2020 voluntary contributions to WHO.
Their letter detailed criticisms of Tedros and WHO’s actions in response to the coronavirus outbreak in China late last year.
“I’m not saying doing away with the WHO,” McCaul told Fox News. “I think the WHO has an important role to play but we can’t have any confidence in the WHO moving forward as long as Tedros is at the top.”
Trump on Tuesday announced a halt to funding of the WHO pending a review of its handling of the pandemic, and in particular charges that deference to China colored its actions. The U.S. is by far the biggest funder of the U.N. health agency.
Some experts, while sympathetic to the president’s concerns, are underlining the importance of the WHO’s work and saying U.S. support should continue, but be leveraged to ensure sweeping changes.
‘I will praise China again and again’
Attention has fallen onto the conduct of Tedros, an Ethiopian former foreign and health minister whose WHO candidacy in 2017 was backed by Beijing.
Critics accuse him of effusively complimenting China rather than challenging its early mishandling of an outbreak which has resulted in a global health and economic crisis.
They charge that he went along with China’s reluctance to have the WHO declare first a public health emergency of international concern, and then a global pandemic. He also spoke out against travel restrictions.
Tedros flew to Beijing on January 27 and secured President Xi Jinping’s agreement for a WHO-led team of international experts to visit “as soon as possible.” Twenty-five critical days passed before the team was finally allowed to visit the outbreak epicenter of Wuhan, yet he never publicly chided China for the delay.
Tedros and other WHO officials have consistently defended its positions, denying being beholden to any country, big or small.
But his own words raised eyebrows.
Meeting with China’s leader, Tedros praised his “personal leadership,” comments that he would reprise later, marveling at Xi’s “detailed” and “amazing” knowledge.
“I will praise China again and again,” he said on returning to Geneva, “because its actions actually helped in reducing the spread of coronavirus to other countries.”
In fact, the first cases to be reported outside China were all people who left Wuhan before authorities locked down the city on January 23. They include Japan (a person who flew from Wuhan on Jan. 6), Thailand (left Wuhan on Jan. 8), the United States (left Wuhan on Jan. 15), United Arab Emirates (arrived from Wuhan on Jan. 16), South Korea (left Wuhan on Jan. 19), Australia (arrived on Jan. 19, from Wuhan via Guangzhou), Taiwan (left Wuhan on Jan. 20), Singapore (arrived on Jan. 20, from Wuhan via Guangzhou), Philippines (arrived on Jan. 21, from Wuhan via Hong Kong), France (arrived on Jan. 22, from Wuhan via Shanghai), Italy (arrived from Wuhan on Jan. 23), and Cambodia (arrived from Wuhan on Jan. 23).
As reported earlier, China only made public on January 21 that human-to-human infections were taking place in Wuhan.
A week earlier, WHO sent its now infamous tweet saying that Chinese authorities’ preliminary investigations “have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus identified in Wuhan.”
The tweet did not question the Chinese position, or add any note of caution.
Yet on the same day, WHO now points out, a senior official “noted in a press briefing there may have been limited human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus.”
Asked about the apparent contradiction, a WHO spokesman in an email pointed to – and emphasized – the words “may” in the briefing, and the words “clear evidence” in the tweet.
On the basis of available information WHO indicated there was no clear evidence of human to human transmission. WHO also stated that the mode(s) of transmission had not yet been determined and human to human transmission is always a concern when patients have respiratory symptoms, noting that this question would require further investigation.
Same day, WHO technical lead noted in a press briefing that there may have been limited human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus (among the 41 confirmed cases), mainly among family members, and that there was a risk of a possible wider outbreak. She noted that human to human transmission would not be surprising given our experience with SARS and MERS, and other respiratory pathogens. (Emphasis in original.)
‘Setting a new standard’
On January 30, Tedros said, “The Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak, despite the severe social and economic impact those measures are having on the Chinese people.”
“We would have seen many more cases outside China by now, and probably deaths, if it were not for the government’s efforts and the progress they have made to protect their own people and the people of the world.”
“In many ways,” Tedros added, “China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.”
Asked on Feb. 12 whether China had asked the WHO to laud its actions, Tedros said, “China doesn’t need to ask to be praised. It was not. It is not. That’s the truth, the whole truth.”
And by Feb., 25 – by which time there were more than 2,900 confirmed cases outside China, and 44 deaths – Tedros was still praising Beijing’s early steps.
“China took action massively at the epicenter, at the source of the outbreak,” he said, adding that the shutdown of Wuhan “helped in preventing cases from being exported to other provinces in China and the rest of the world.”