“A panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization has criticized China and other countries for not moving to stem the initial outbreak of the coronavirus earlier and questioned whether the U.N. health agency should have labeled it a pandemic sooner.
In a report issued Monday, the panel led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said there were “lost opportunities to apply basic public health measures at the earliest opportunity” and that Chinese authorities could have applied their efforts “more forcefully” in January shortly after the coronavirus began sickening clusters of people.”
“The experts also wondered why WHO did not declare a global public health emergency sooner. The U.N. health agency convened its emergency committee on Jan. 22, but did not characterize the emerging pandemic as an international emergency until a week later. At the time, WHO said its expert committee was divided on whether a global emergency should be declared.
“One more question is whether it would have helped if WHO used the word pandemic earlier than it did,” the panel said.
WHO did not describe the Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic until March 11, weeks after the virus had begun causing explosive outbreaks in numerous continents, meeting WHO’s own definition for a flu pandemic.
As the coronavirus began spreading across the globe, WHO’s top experts disputed how infectious the virus was, saying it was not as contagious as flu and that people without symptoms only rarely spread the virus. Scientists have since concluded that Covid-19 transmits even quicker than the flu and that a significant proportion of spread is from people who don’t appear to be sick.”
“In a close 27 to 25 vote (with one abstention)..members of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) backed a World Health Organization (WHO) proposal to take cannabis and cannabis resin off the list of Schedule IV drugs—i.e., those which the international body says are “particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects” and should therefore be most strictly controlled around the world. Schedule IV drugs include heroin, fentanyl, and—from 1961 until now—cannabis.”
“While the U.N. vote “doesn’t totally free the plant from treaty control, it’s a giant step toward the normalization of cannabis in medicine above all but also in our societies generally””
“These recommendations might not be legally binding, but they can wield significant influence around the globe.
For instance, after the WHO change, Argentina’s government “issued a decree authorizing sales and self-cultivation of cannabis for medical use, and the justification explicitly refers to the outcome of the critical review and the WHO recommendation to delete cannabis from schedule IV,” noted Jelsma.”
“The rescheduling “is even more important when you consider that cannabis was placed into Schedule IV without ever having been subject to any scientific assessment,” suggests For Alternative Approaches to Addiction Think & do tank (FAAAT) in a press release. “Schedule IV for cannabis is a relic of the most extreme international drug laws inherited from 1950s morals … The removal from Schedule IV is, therefore, phenomenal news for millions of patients around the world and a historical victory of science over politics.””
“the WHO did make some mistakes early on in the pandemic, such as not pushing China to allow international inspectors into the country as the coronavirus outbreak grew, and falsely asserting in January that “Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of Covid-19.
But that’s a far cry from proof of some special WHO-China conspiracy, and serves as a convenient excuse to distract from Trump’s lacking coronavirus response in the US — including ignoring months of US intelligence warning of an imminent threat to the country from the virus.”
“the president’s decision will be a major blow to the WHO. America’s withdrawal means the health body will lose nearly $900 million in US contributions every two years, by far the most the body receives from any nation. Trump had already frozen about $400 million of that money last month when he first froze funding during a review of US-WHO relations.
The US will now be “redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs,” Trump said, without naming what those might be.
In one fell swoop, Trump is making the global coronavirus response harder to coordinate, has possibly ignited a congressional firestorm, and almost surely worsened the world’s perceptions of America.”
“More than a dozen United States experts were working at the World Health Organization and feeding the Trump administration information last December as the coronavirus spread through China, according to reporting by the Washington Post.”
“A top official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was part of the committee that advised the WHO on whether to declare a global public health emergency in late January. Two US scientists were part of the WHO’s information gathering mission to China in mid-February. A CDC official has compiled daily reports of outbreaks in consultation with WHO counterparts and passed along information to higher-ups in the organization through daily briefing calls. And upcoming WHO plans and announcements were reportedly shared days in advance with top US officials like Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
The WHO has been criticized for its handling of the pandemic — including whether the organization waited too long to declare a global emergency and if it has been too liberal in its praise for China’s response — but the Post’s reporting indicates that lack of early communication of the threat to the US was likely not one of its missteps.
Trump claims otherwise, telling reporters last Tuesday, “The reality is that the WHO failed to adequately obtain … and share information in a timely and transparent fashion.””
“Trump’s threat to stop sending the millions of dollars the country sends annually to the WHO would be a devastating blow to the organization, which is helping to coordinate the global response to Covid-19. The US is the organization’s single largest funder, providing 22 percent of all member state assessed contributions and often hundreds of millions more in voluntary contributions.
It’s not clear whether he can stop the $116 million that’s been appropriated to the agency by Congress, but it seems he may be allowed to reroute the funding to other organizations or withhold it until next year.”
“The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease swept across the globe not because of the WHO’s errors but because of a “very fragmented, chaotic, state-centric response,” according to Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
And now, with over 2 million reported cases and 125,000 deaths worldwide, countries “failing in their response have decided WHO is the culprit,” says Ashish Jha, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.”
“Most experts agree there are some legitimate criticisms of how the agency has handled the Covid-19 global health crisis, particularly in how it responded to China’s initial delays and suppression of key information. Other critiques, they say, are less founded.”
“On January 22, just three weeks after first being notified of the virus’s existence, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened an emergency meeting to determine if the outbreak qualified as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), the agency’s term for an “extraordinary event” that requires a coordinated international response — like SARS, H1N1, and Ebola outbreaks in 2014 and 2019. The experts couldn’t agree and decided to meet again. After the director-general traveled to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on January 29, a PHEIC was declared on January 30.
This declaration activated WHO measures to “address travel, trade, quarantine, screening, treatment” as well as national measures in countries that have tied their pandemic response plans to WHO declarations. “I called for WHO to do it a little earlier,” says Gostin, “but it had no impact on the epidemic.” Jha agrees. “I think they could have called it when they initially met, but it wouldn’t have made a big difference,” he says.”
“all the experts Vox interviewed agreed that the US government’s lack of preparation for Covid-19 was not a result of WHO delays.”
“ABC News reports US intelligence agencies warned the White House and the Pentagon of the disease as early as November. In January, trade adviser Peter Navarro warned the White House that the novel coronavirus could kill half a million Americans. In February, the US lost valuable weeks failing to develop effective testing. As late as February 27, Trump told a press briefing the virus would “disappear.” The next day, the first American died of Covid-19.
“WHO is not responsible for America not heeding the warnings of its own scientists and security apparatus — for two months,” says Jha. “That’s laughable.””
“WHO has offered little criticism of governments’ responses.”
“More than 430,000 people traveled from China to over 17 American cities after the virus was discovered but before the ban; another 40,000 people arrived to the US from China after the ban went into place.”
“Although the WHO has not publicly criticized the American travel ban, it doesn’t recommend travel or trade restrictions during disease outbreaks, both because they often don’t work and because they can make disease response more difficult. Kamradt-Scott recalls firsthand his difficulty in trying to get from Australia to West Africa during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, when all but two commercial airlines had stopped flying there. “It’s not simply that it causes economic damage, but that it impedes responses,” he says. ”
“Kamradt-Scott, however, is on the fence. He has just completed a literature review, looking at travel and trade restrictions, and his view is that travel bans “may have helped delay the arrival of the virus.” He predicts that eventually Covid-19 research will cause the WHO to revisit some of its guidelines. “It’s rather fraught. It does create economic problems, but if it can help countries by giving them time to prepare, perhaps it can be justified on that ground.”
But, he adds, “Trump implemented travel restrictions but then did nothing to prepare the country, so again, that really comes back to his administration.””