The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, founded on the 7th of April of 1948 and becoming the first specialized UN agency to which every UN member state subscribed. Based in Geneva from the beginning, it was first housed in the Palace of Nations, the headquarters of the UN´s failed predecessor, the League of Nations.
Since the 1st of July of 2017, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 55, a microbiologist and malaria researcher as well as Ethiopia´s former Minister of Health and of Foreign Affairs, serves as the WHO’s Director-General. He was actually born in Asmara, then a provincial capital of the Ethiopian Empire abolished in 1974, and nowadays the capital of Eritrea, which became independent in 1993. Being the first African in this position, Tedros came under fire over his management of cholera epidemics in his home country in 2006, 2009 and 2011, but also in neighboring Sudan in 2017. Accused of failing to properly classify outbreaks of the disease, he dismissed all the allegations as a smear campaign by political rivals.
Currently, Tedros is facing similar allegations over his handling of the pandemic that in late 2019 originated in Wuhan, the capital of the Chinese province of Hubei. In mid-January, for the WHO there was still no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus, which by now has already killed far more than 100,000 people.
Considering his excellent ties with Peking, observers blame Tedros for turning a blind eye to China’s culpability. At the beginning of the crisis, Chinese officials reportedly forced scientists to destroy samples of the virus. An early whistle-blower, ophthalmologist Dr. Li Wenliang, died from the disease on the 7th of February, aged 34. After being first arrested by police in January for “spreading rumors” and “disrupting social order”, Li was half-heartedly exonerated by an official report on the 20th of March.
Totally ignoring China’s initial reaction, Tedros suddenly hailed the nearly universal lockdown of a whole province as “a new standard for outbreak response”. US-President Donald Trump accused the WHO’s leadership of being China-centric, especially for not criticizing Chinese Communist propaganda that blamed the United States for being the actual point of origin for the coronavirus, and in consequence threatened to cut off American funding for the organization.
Tedros’ past and present behavior is definitely questionable, but the icing on the cake were his ridiculous accusations that he had received “racist slurs” from Taiwanese Internet users, demanding an apology. Why would people in a small and isolated country like Taiwan, that badly needs international support, and which has been desperately trying to be readmitted to the UN since 1993, show such a counterproductive attitude? Taipei publicly stated that there is fireproof evidence that those offensive posts where actually made by Chinese trolls that wanted to discredit their alleged compatriots. That’s a clever way of distracting public opinion from the real problem.
China claims the island as its sacred territory, since both parts of the Taiwan Strait split at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Therefore it usually not only blocks Taiwan’s WHO participation, but its access to vital information in many fields. All the same, the red mandarins had responded angrily to assertions that due to that de facto exclusion from the global health system, Taiwanese lives have been put at risk at all.
Thanks to the swiftness, competence and transparency of the Taiwanese government, which on the 31st of December of 2019 had warned the WHO in vane about a new form of pneumonia in China, so far only 388 persons in Taiwan have contracted the disease, six of whom lost their lives since the 16th of February. Luckily, at the end no one there had to rely on a shady figure like Mr. Tedros.