WHO Chief Denies Favoring China; Says Time Will Come for Self-Evaluation

By Patrick Goodenough | April 9, 2020 | 4:19am EDT
World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in late January. (Photo by Naohiko Hatta/AFP via Getty Images)
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in late January. (Photo by Naohiko Hatta/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday the time will come for the WHO, and all other players, to evaluate how well or otherwise it dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, but that now was not the time to “politicize” the crisis.

Responding at length to questions about President Trump’s criticism of what he called a “China-centric” approach by the U.N. health agency, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus disputed a reporter’s suggestion that he was “too close” to China, which had supported his candidacy when he ran for the post in 2017.

“We’re close to every nation,” he told a virtual press conference from Geneva. “For us, rich and poor is the same. For us, weak and strong is the same. For us, small and big is the same. For us, people who are in the south or in the north, east or west are the same.”

“We belong to all member-states equally. We don’t want to create differences between our member-states,” Tedros said. “We respect every nation. We work with every nation.”

Trump and a growing number of Republican lawmakers, are critical of WHO and Tedros for consistently praising China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan late last year.

Late last month, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso told lawmakers in Tokyo the WHO should be renamed the Chinese Health Organization, criticizing it for taking China’s word on the outbreak early on, and for siding with China against Taiwan even as Taiwan recorded progress in fighting the epidemic.

Trump on Tuesday warned that U.S. funding to the WHO could be cut, saying that it “called it wrong” on the outbreak from the outset, and slamming it in particular for opposing his decision to restrict travel from China with effect from early February.

Tedros did not reply directly to some questions about the criticism, but said evaluations would be carried out once the pandemic was under control.

“We will do assessments,” he said. “The time will come when all players check what they have done well and what they have screwed. Not only WHO, all players. And then build on our strengths and improve [on] our weaknesses.”

Tedros appealed for unity within nations, and between nations, to combat the coronavirus.

Recalling that the U.S. and Soviet Union cooperated in the midst of the Cold War to combat smallpox, he said the U.S. and China now needed to “come together and fight this dangerous enemy.”

‘Generous support’

When asked about Trump’s threat to cut funding, Tedros said U.S. support for the WHO has been strong and bipartisan, and he believed it would continue.

The former Ethiopian health minister pointed back to President George W. Bush’s launching in 2004 of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which Tedros said “saved millions of lives, brought hope to families, brought hope to nations, brought hope to the world.”

(A 2009 study assessing the success of PEPFAR found the program had reduced the AIDS death rate in 12 targeted African countries by 10.5 percent, and had averted about 1.2 million deaths.)

“Not only PEPFAR but a third of the Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] contribution is from the U.S.,” Tedros acknowledged.

He said he wanted to take the opportunity to thank “the people and government of the U.S. for their generous support. And we’re very grateful for that, and the world is grateful.”

The U.S. has been the WHO’s biggest funder since the agency was created in 1948. In 2018-2018, American taxpayers accounted for 15.8 percent of the overall budget, in both assessed and voluntary contributions. The second-biggest funder, Britain, contributed 7.7 percent. China contributed 1.5 percent.

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