WHO's 'political games' amid coronavirus crisis have cost global health: Doctors' group

The logo of the World Health Organization in Geneva on March 9, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

The World Health Organisation played "political games" by excluding Taiwan, resulting in the agency's missteps in managing the coronavirus crisis, according to a group representing some 10 million doctors around the world.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated with terrible consequences how wrong and damaging for global health it is to exclude Taiwan from unrestricted and effective participation in the World Health Organisation," the World Medical Association stated in a strongly worded letter to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Financial Times reported last Friday (April 17).

The doctors' association urged the health body to grant Taiwan greater participation and to heed information provided by the self-governed island in the future.

The censure from the WMA came after US President Donald Trump criticised the WHO for mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus and cut the United States' funding to the agency.

While Mr Trump's decision to cut funding was met with widespread disapproval internationally, the WHO is also facing a barrage of criticism about its handling of the pandemic, including an earlier directive that only those who are unwell need to wear masks to prevent the spread of the disease. That guideline has since been reversed.

The WHO has been accused by Taiwan of ignoring a Dec 31 e-mail it sent asking if the virus could be transmitted between people. Taipei says its efforts to raise an early alarm over the possibility of human-to-human transmission were dismissed by the health body.

China confirmed that human transmission of the coronavirus was possible only on Jan 20. The admission came after the WHO earlier suggested "limited" human transmission was possible but rescinded that view the same day.

Taiwan is not a WHO member because of objections from China, which claims the island as its own and deems it to have no right to membership of international bodies.

Beijing says Taiwan is capitalising on the pandemic as a way of seeking independence, but Taipei counters that the slight from the WHO had deprived the world of information critical to fight the virus in the early stages of the outbreak.

Mr Trump says the WHO failed "to adequately obtain, vet and share information in a timely and transparent fashion".

While the WMA shares Mr Trump's view that the WHO mishandled information from Taiwan, its US chapter is among those critical of the President's move to pull funding from the health body, the FT reported.

Other countries typically allied with the US have expressed dismay at Mr Trump's decision, but some have also pointed out that the WHO needs to change.

Among them are Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has urged an investigation into the organisation after the pandemic, and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who highlighted the agency's reluctance to ask China to close its wildlife markets for good. The Wuhan outbreak is believed to have originated from those markets.

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