It's a great way to deflect from one's own inadequacies

By Edward West Time of article published May 8, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - Blaming the World Health Organization (WHO) for the rapid global spread of the Covid-19 virus is almost as nonsensical as blaming the Chinese government for it.

US President Donald Trump, in typically misplaced high-handedness, said this month that the US intends to withdraw funding for the WHO. He recanted shortly thereafter to say the issue will now instead be investigated, before the withdrawal would be considered.

But his words left no doubt as to his intention to lay blame. Blaming somebody else is a great way to deflect from one’s own inadequacies.

Trump has been fiercely criticised about his poor handling of the pandemic, which was shying away from proper lockdown in the interests of preserving economic activity, the fact that the biggest economy in the world did not have enough hospital beds, testing and other equipment to deal with the outbreak, and the easing this month of social distancing measures, even as health officials warn that it might be premature.

This is while the US has become an epicentre of the virus, with more than 20000 new cases per day, and more than 1000 deaths per day.

Critics have claimed that the WHO was slow to respond to the outbreak, and countless lives might have been saved had it acted more swiftly.

The chronology of actual events speaks differently.

On December 27, 2019, Zhang Jixian, a doctor in Hubei Province, reported three suspected cases she received.

On December 29, the Hubei Provincial and Wuhan Municipal Health Commissions instructed relevant authorities to carry out epidemiological investigations.

The Wuhan Municipal Commission reported a pneumonia cluster for the first time on December 31, 2019.

The WHO set up an Incident Management Support Team, at headquarters, regional and country level, to put the organisation on an emergency footing to deal with the outbreak, the very next day, on January 1, 2020.

That is hardly slow moving. Remember, at this stage, nobody had any idea what they were dealing with, and how to deal with it. Yet, 10 days later the WHO had packaged a guide to countries on how to detect, test and manage potential cases. On January 11, China released the genome sequencing of the virus.

On January 30, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and on March 11, “alarmed” by the spread of the disease and “levels of inaction” by governments, it declared the disease a pandemic.

The US is the biggest donor to the WHO, contributing more than $400 million (R7.44billion) in 2019, about 15percent of its annual budget. Withdrawing at this time of pandemic would have been disastrous for the organisation and for its work. The UK, Germany and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made up some of the next biggest funders last year, while China was the WHO’s 16th biggest donor.

There is no other institution that does the work of the WHO. And in a world where most countries are poor, and have insufficient medical services, it provides a much-needed lifeline of global support, advice and research that would otherwise be utterly unavailable to these countries.

The other scapegoat that Trump was quick to latch on to was China. Trump claimed to have seen evidence that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory, which, according to the BBC, was a claim that was soon countered by his own intelligence agencies. They said they were still investigating how the virus began, but that it had been ascertained that Covid-19 “was not man-made or genetically modified.”

It is also morally indefensible to consider taking action against people who have become sick from a virus that does not differentiate between victims, wherever that virus came from. There is, even now, no proof of where exactly, and how the virus originated.

China has suffered a relatively low 4633 deaths from some 82800 infections, and has only recently come out of a two-month lockdown that has caused its gross domestic product to shrink 6.8 percent in the first three months of the year, the first quarterly decline on record for the country.

Instead, Trump would have made far better use of the stringent, and thorough prevention control measures that China has learnt to use to effectively deal with plagues like Covid-19.

Its economy, the second biggest in the world, is expected to also start recovering in the second quarter.

With Covid-19 spreading rapidly in many places around the world, now is not the time to be playing the blame game, but to face up to the challenge of global public health security, as one world.


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