The World Health Organisation, under pressure from member countries, has agreed to an independent probe of how it handled its international response to the coronavirus, but such an investigation must be thorough and transparent if the organisation hopes to repair its damaged reputation.
Despite reports in late January of an increasingly deadly virus infecting thousands in China, and the subsequent spread to Europe, WHO officials did not declare a global pandemic until March 11. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed the organisation for its delay in issuing warnings, and claims it sided with China in withholding information about the virus’ origin.
The president said the organisation did a “a very sad job” and that he was considering cutting annual US funding for the WHO from $450mn a year to $40mn. Several Republican lawmakers have called for the resignation of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has repeatedly defended the organisation’s actions in fighting the pandemic.
A coalition of African, European and other countries have called for a “comprehensive evaluation” of the WHO’s co-ordination of the global response, although officials said it would stop short of dealing with some of the more contentious issues such as the origins of the coronavirus. If the probe is to carry any weight in reestablishing confidence in the WHO, all issues must be addressed and on the table for evaluation.
WHO officials must look at how the organisation can be improved and streamlined to cut past the bureaucracy that critics say has bogged down its efforts in the past, notably in dealing with the Ebola outbreak several years ago.
A first report by an oversight advisory board to the WHO has already raised questions about the organisation’s warning system for alerting the world to potential outbreaks. Clearly there are problems within the organisation that must be examined and addressed going forward.
Despite the ongoing criticism by the Trump administration of the WHO, it is an international organisation that is needed. Poorer countries depend on the WHO for delivering medical help and supplies in times of crisis. And if the coronavirus pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s that the world needs an international organisation that can quickly identify outbreaks and help co-ordinate responses.
The independent probe of WHO’s response efforts must be done quickly and thoroughly to reassure member countries of the group’s effectiveness. Anything short of that will only add to more questions about the organisation’s future. – Tribune News Service
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