Thinking Citizen Blog — The WHO — a Mixed Bag

Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day

Today’ s Topic: The World Health Organization — a Mixed Bag

The United States has been the World Health Organization’s biggest funder — to the tune of $400 MM in 2019 (compared to $44 MM for China.) Should the US push for radical reform? Is Trump scapegoating the WHO to distract from his own mistakes? Is “yes” the correct answer to both questions? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

BACKGROUND ON THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO)

1. Founded in 1948, 194 member states (but not Taiwan), a budget of $4.2 bn, largely funded by voluntary contributions from member states. Goal: “the attainment by all people of the highest level of health.” WHO has 7,000 employees in 142 countries.

2. Biggest funder: the US (15.9%). Second: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (9.4%), third, the UK (7.7%). China’s contribution is less than 1%. The Rotary Club accounts for 2.5%.

3. Based in Geneva, Switzerland. Current executive director: Dr. Tedros Anhanom, former Health Minister and Foreign Minister of Ethiopia with a term from 2017 to 2022.

NB: Taiwan has been excluded because of pressure from China. Even “observer” status was revoked in 2017. Entities with “observer” status include the Vatican, the Order of Malta, and “Palestine.” North Korea is a member of the WHO.

THE CASE AGAINST THE WHO — Thousands of lives lost due to politics

1. “The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the agency’s process for declaring emergencies as prone to politicization, while its alienation of responsible nations like Taiwan undermines the agency’s global mission.” (WSJ)

2. “It has been too cozy with China, it made some wrong calls on the coronavirus early on (such as doubting on Jan. 14 that there was human-to-human transmission), and it should stop blocking participation by Taiwan” (Kristof)

3. “So much death has been caused by their mistakes.” (Trump)

NB: “On Jan. 14, before an official WHO delegation had even visited China, the group parroted Beijing’s claim that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” Two weeks later, after China had reported more than 4,500 cases of the virus and over 70 people in other countries were sick with it, Mr. Tedros (head of the WHO) visited China and heaped praise on its leaders for their “transparency.” (Lanhee Chen, “The Story of the WHO”, fourth link).

IN DEFENSE OF THE WHO — the Fire Truck analogy

1. “Thousands of Americans would be alive today if President Trump had spent more time listening to the World Health Organization instead of trying to destroy it.” (Kristof)

2. Cutting funding to WHO “is like taking away a fire department’s trucks in the middle of a blaze.” (Kristof)

3. “The W.H.O. is bureaucratic, frustrating, timid — and indispensable. No other organization can fill its international role overseeing the fight against disease. It has battled an outbreak of Ebola since last year in Congo, and that’s one reason we haven’t had Ebola cases in the United States.”

NB: “If I seem angry, it’s because I’ve seen too many women dying in childbirth in poor countries, too many children dying of diarrhea, too much leprosy. Gutting the W.H.O. would mean more kids dying of malnutrition, more moms dying of cervical cancer, and the coronavirus infecting more people in more countries.” (Kristof)

Opinion | A Reckoning for the WHO

Opinion | Trump’s Deadly Search for a Scapegoat

Criticized for Pandemic Response, Trump Tries Shifting Blame to the W.H.O.

Opinion | Lost in Beijing: The Story of the WHO

YOUR TURN

Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something important you might otherwise forget.

Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought.

The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.