Donald Trump’s complaints about the World Health Organisation are credible and his anger towards its chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is understandable. The WHO demonstrated poor leadership in failing to deliver on its mission of serving as an early warning system for global health threats such as COVID-19. In the critical month of January, Tedros appeared more eager to downplay the threat while praising China’s President Xi Jinping, when the facts told a very different story and the world needed to know the truth.
Even so, the US President has made a tactical error. There ought to be a reckoning for the organisation and its unrepentant leadership over this unfolding nightmare. But announcing an immediate halt to funding the WHO while the administration conducts a review has damaged the prospects that the US can lead meaningful change after the pandemic subsides.
To be fair to Tedros, the failures of the WHO precede his tenure as director-general. In 2005, the WHO adopted a revised set of International Health Regulations that beefed up the powers of the organisation to respond to global health threats for the benefit of member nations. The revised regulations are binding on all 194 WHO member states. The revisions were largely a response to the 2002-03 severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, which also began in China and spread to almost 30 nations.
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