NPR spoke to global health experts in the U.S., Canada and Switzerland regarding some of the assertions in President Trump’s letter to the WHO:
An excerpt from Trump’s letter reads: “The International Health Regulations require countries to report the risk of a health emergency within 24 hours. But China did not inform the World Health Organization of Wuhan’s several cases of pneumonia, of unknown origin, until December 31, 2019, even though it likely had knowledge of these cases days or weeks earlier. Even now, China continues to … refusing to share accurate and timely data, viral samples and isolates, and by withholding vital information about the virus and its origins.“
Lawrence Gostin, a global health professor at Georgetown University Law Center, agrees China was not transparent early on in the outbreak. “China was anywhere from two to even up to six weeks’ late in reporting to the World Health Organization,” noting there’s evidence that Chinese health authorities knew the coronavirus was circulating in December.
Second, while China quickly shared the genome sequence for the coronavirus, “it has not been as forthcoming with sharing biological samples which are needed for epidemiology and also for vaccines and treatments,” Gostin adds.
But Gostin said blaming the WHO for China’s reporting delays and sample hoarding is misdirected. Of these charges by Trump, he said: “They’re valid critiques of China but not the World Health Organization.”
Trump’s letter also states: “The World Health Organization consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from the Lancet medical journal. The World Health Organization failed to independently investigate credible reports that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts, even those that came from sources within Wuhan itself.“
The Lancet, a respected medical journal, said of this statement: “This statement is factually incorrect.” The journal said it published its first papers on the novel coronavirus on Jan. 24. In two papers published that day, researchers from China and Hong Kong described the first 41 patients in Wuhan and provided scientific evidence for human-to-human transmission.
On Jan. 24, Trump tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
Yet in his letter to the WHO dated May 18, Trump writes: “The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China. My Administration has already started discussions with you on how to reform the organization. But action is needed quickly.“
This demand comes with no specifics, global health observers said. “What exactly does the Trump administration want WHO to do?” asks Kelley Lee, a global health professor at Simon Fraser University. It’s not clear what “action” the U.S. is asking for, or how WHO could demonstrate “independence from China,” because no solutions are outlined in the letter.
“For the United States to blame the World Health Organization for its own months and months and months of inaction seems factually untrue and designed to divide the world at a moment when global solidarity is needed most,” said Benjamin Mason Meier, associate professor of global health policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It undercuts the World Health Organization‘s efforts to provide a collective response to this common threat [of the COVID-19 pandemic].”
[Read full NPR article]