Trump vs. the WHO

By Dima Kulakov

Coronavirus: WHO chief Tedros finds himself in Trump crosshairs

Over the past few months, Donald Trump, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General, have been in a raging “battle.” Trump has voiced several criticisms against the World Health Organization and threatened to rescind his funding from the agency. So, what is Trump accusing the WHO of? Is this true? Can he be trusted? How is the WHO responding?

  1. “They called it wrong. They really – they missed the call. They could have called it months earlier. They would have known, and they should have known.  And they probably did know.” – Donald Trump

Here, Trump is claiming that though the WHO knew of the threat the virus possessed, the organization did not share this information with the public. This is mostly accurate. Before the end of January, when Adhanom visited the Chinese President Xi Jinping, the WHO was, according to Foreign Policy Magazine  “uncritically repeating information from the Chinese authorities, ignoring warnings from Taiwanese doctors.” Additionally, the organization remained reluctant to declare a “public health emergency of international concern,” claiming after a meeting Jan. 22, that there was no need to do so. The WHO only declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, even though it had spread globally weeks before. 

  1. “They seem to be very China-centric. And we have to look into that. So we’re going to look into it.” – Donald Trump

The agency has been accused of “blindly” accepting China’s data. For example, the WHO claimed that undetected cases were very rare in China. This is now known to be false, as the Chinese screening program for COVID-19 only included patients seen at fever clinics. In other parts of the world, many of the people who tested positive did not experience a fever. However, the WHO is not fully to blame. The organization had not even visited China prior to January 22, so they could not officially discredit Chinese data. Additionally, if they were to discredit this data, no positives would emerge, only unknowns. 

  1. “China is doing the right things, and China is responding in a massive way…We’ve seen no obvious lack of transparency.” – WHO

This is a quote from a WHO officer that critics site to prove that the organization favours China. Three days after this announcement, The Washington Post reported on how missteps and secrecy were marring the Chinese response. For instance, the U.S. had offered to send much-needed experts to China and been ignored. Seven days after the announcement, The Post reported that the WHO’s continued praise of China was baffling to experts. This too may not be entirely the WHO’s fault, as China was not sending details that WHO officials and other experts expected and needed.

  1. “They actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it.  And they were wrong.” – Donald Trump

Though it is impossible to know what exactly happens in the complex, political world, the WHO never publicly disagreed with Trump’s ban – it disagreed with all travel bans. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the WHO was wrong. At the time, though, there was no evidence of a travel ban working, as in the past, with Ebola, and SARS, travel bans did not make a significant difference.

  1. “We have it totally under control” – Donald Trump

These words by Trump came just before the United States became the world’s worst-affected country with more than 1,160,000 confirmed coronavirus cases (around a third of the world’s) and 67,000 deaths, healthcare workers began to struggle with medical shortages, hospitals became overwhelmed, and the president found himself under immense pressure – the numbers speak for themselves.

These, of course, are only some of the quotes going back and forth between Trump and the WHO. Overall, both parties are embellishing for their own good, and, as can be seen, not much can be trusted, at least initially.