In part one and part two of this series on the World Health Organisation, we looked at its poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and its history and financial mismanagement. In part three, we’ll consider its leadership and the problems that led to its failure.

The current director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, received a glowing commendation as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020

It described him as the ‘face of hope and determination at the centre of the Covid-19 storm’, and commended him for his belief that ‘all people, wherever they are and whatever their circumstances, have the right to quality health care’.

Of course, believing in idealistic niceties can hardly be called an achievement. The pothead living in student digs, the middle-class bleeding heart, and the radical Marxist with a red beret also stand ‘firmly for equity and access’, as Tedros reportedly does.

The hagiography was written by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is hardly an objective observer. The former finance minister of Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala is also the chair of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, which is closely associated with the WHO. She is also a WHO and African Union envoy on Covid-19. 

Tedros had been a fairly successful minister of health in Ethiopia between 2005 and 2012, and was minister of foreign affairs from 2012 to 2016. 

When he threw his hat in the ring for election as director-general of the WHO, his candidacy was strongly supported by African health ministers. He was also backed by former African Union chairperson and then-president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and the chair of the African Union Commission at the time, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

China, Ethiopia and Tedros

China has long had very close relations with Africa and with Ethiopia in particular. Its capital, Addis Ababa, has been described as ‘the city China built’. China has been accused of bugging the African Union headquarters in that city. It is also building a new headquarters for the Africa Centres for Disease Control in Addis Ababa. Belt And Road News holds up Ethiopia’s relationship with China as a model for cooperation between the rising superpower and African nations.

Tedros’s candidacy was strongly supported by China, which has been ambitious to gain influence on the world stage. He defeated David Nabarro, the candidate supported by the UK, US and Canada, to become the first non-doctor to ascend to the helm of the WHO on 1 July 2017. 

Besides not being a doctor, there are other things in his background that should have given WHO electors pause. 

The Ethiopian regime of which Tedros had been a high-ranking member has been accused of torture and repression. Tedros himself may face genocide charges for his part in a regime that marginalised and persecuted certain ethnic groups, held over 13,000 political prisoners, and shot and killed protestors for demanding an end to human rights abuses. 

At the time of his departure for the WHO, Ethiopia remained a cesspit of poor governance, rampant corruption, lawlessness and it continues to wallow near the bottom of the Human Development Index rankings.

His election appeared to be yet another case of the UN system elevating people and countries that reflect the exact opposite of its stated principles, such as giving Libya, Venezuala, Saudia Arabia, China and Russia seats on the Human Rights Council or seating Iran and Saudia Arabia on the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Praising Mugabe

It wouldn’t take long before Tedros confirmed those suspicions, when he named Mugabe as a WHO ‘goodwill ambassador’. The entire world choked on the effusive praise he heaped on the geriatric tyrant, who oversaw the destruction of an economy and a drop in life expectancy from 62 years to 36 years in less than two decades.

The bizarre gesture by Tedros – revoked in the aftermath of the outcry – was widely viewed as payback for Mugabe’s support of his candidacy. Some speculated that it was a political payoff to China, which had long been an ally of Mugabe’s. 

China’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak was authoritarian and draconian. It was unprecedented in public health management. Nobody knew if it would work. It did not follow WHO guidelines. 

Even so, Tedros has been lavish in his praise of China’s response. Even while China was delaying a WHO research team sent to discover the origins of the virus, and it was already clear that the Chinese Communist Party had not been open and transparent about its findings, Tedros stood by his praise.

SARS and swine flu

It wasn’t always thus. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, David Heyman, then executive director of the WHO’s communicable diseases cluster recounted to The Guardian how the organisation’s then-director-general, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, gave China a public tongue-lashing. 

If only the WHO had been able to help at an earlier stage, she said, the outbreak might have been contained. She exhorted the Chinese to ‘let us come in as quickly as possible’. 

China quickly fell in line, as did others who resisted WHO guidelines, such as the then-mayor of Toronto. After that, no other member countries hesitated to follow WHO instructions, even though the organisation had no formal power to monitor or censure its member countries. 

Brundtland was arguably the last WHO director general with true leadership qualities.

The organisation tried to formalise its pandemic response after the SARS outbreak, but its members – led by the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China – refused to give the WHO any real power, as the United States had proposed.

When H1N1 ‘swine flu’ struck in 2009, the WHO’s response was widely criticised. It declared a pandemic three months after the disease was first discovered, but ultimately, it reported that swine flu claimed a mere 18 500 lives. 

Many critics accused it of crying wolf. Others accused it of underestimating the impact of the virus, which may have caused between 150 000 and 500 000 deaths worldwide

The huge discrepancy in death toll estimates served to underscore the inadequacy of the global health emergency reporting system, as well as the inability of the WHO to mount an appropriate response based on factual information.

At the same time, the organisation’s funding was under pressure from constrained global economic conditions and the need to pay salaries that kept its employees living in the lap of luxury.

The Ebola crisis

Five years later, in 2014, these factors led to disaster when the largest Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak in history swept through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It was spread by bodily fluids and killed about 40% of the people who were infected.

According to a Harvard Kennedy School case report published in 2020, the WHO had made changes which deemphasised epidemic and disaster response in the years leading up to the Ebola crisis. Instead, they increasingly redirected resources to advising member countries on dealing with chronic disease, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diabetes, cancer and other illnesses that took far more lives than the occasional outbreak. 

The WHO’s new focus on non-communicable ‘lifestyle’ diseases and tobacco control undermined its original purpose, of limiting the cross-border spread of infectious diseases and helping member countries combat these diseases within their own borders. 

The organisation’s changing focus was evident in how its budgets changed. For the two-year period of 2012 and 2013, it slashed its infectious disease budget and boosted its budget for non-communicable diseases. Its allocation for ‘outbreak and crisis response’ was eviscerated, with a 51% cut from $469 million to $228 million, while increasing its budget item for ‘preparedness, surveillance and response’ by a much smaller amount of 32% to $287 million. 

Its next budget, for the biennium of 2014 and 2015, prepared before the Ebola outbreak, continued the trend. It reduced funding on communicable disease by 10%, increased funding for non-communicable disease and health promotion activities by about 20%, increased funding for member country surveillance and preparedness a little, and drastically cut the WHO’s own funding for outbreaks and crisis response.

As a result, its ability to deliver on its mandate to track infectious disease outbreaks across the globe and coordinate appropriate outbreak responses was poor and getting worse.

Egregious failure

It took the WHO eight months to declare the Ebola outbreak to be an international public health emergency, long after the virus had crossed international borders and established itself in multiple countries. Its concern was largely political, worrying that such a declaration might be considered a ‘hostile act’, and might be a ‘death sentence’ to developing countries.

The Harvard report quotes Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, then Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs in the United States Department of Health and Human Services, saying: ‘They have a broad mandate but very little ability to carry anything out.’

The sluggish and ineffectual response by the WHO exposed an organisation in crisis. Its director general at the time, Margaret Chan, tried to explain that the responsibility for combating the disease fell on national governments. As a result of this abdication of responsibility by the WHO, much of the response fell to other organisations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières and the World Bank. The latter committed a total of $500 million to the effort to contain Ebola.

Experts called the WHO’s response to the Ebola epidemic an ‘egregious failure’

‘Major reform of national and global systems to respond to epidemics are not only feasible, but also essential so that we do not witness such depths of suffering, death, and social and economic havoc in future epidemics,’ said Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and co-discoverer of the Ebola virus.

Lessons not learnt

When an internal WHO memo was leaked that suggested incompetent staff and a lack of information had hampered efforts to stop Ebola from spreading, Chan brushed off the criticism, saying that history would be the judge, and that the immediate priority should be to focus on containing the outbreak rather than carping about the WHO’s response.

This would have echoes in the reaction when the US announced the suspension of funding to, and membership of, the organisation in April 2020 over the WHO’s mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. ‘We are still in the acute phase of a pandemic, so now is not the time to cut back on funding,’ Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe told the media.

The WHO ultimately admitted to its failures in responding to the Ebola outbreak, and listed numerous lessons learnt. However, there has been little or no corrective action since that admission. This was painfully exposed when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and many of the very same problems surfaced again. The balance of its budget allocation between infectious and ‘lifestyle diseases’ has been virtually unchanged since the Ebola disaster.

The Ebola episode demonstrates that left to its own devices, the WHO will not reform. It did not implement the corrective actions it proposed itself in the aftermath of its bungled response. There is no reason to believe that it will somehow shape up after the Covid-19 pandemic is over either, especially not when China appears to have the organisation in its pocket.

The WHO will have to be reformed from the outside. While the US decision to suspend its funding and membership might seem callous in a time of crisis, it might be just the kick that the organisation needs. 

In the next and final instalment of this series, I will consider proposals that might make the World Health Organisation more effective and more responsive to the needs of a world faced with recurring infectious disease pandemics.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

33 COMMENTS

  1. I believe that as from the immediate, All WHO directors and leaders should step down for being very incompetent in dealing with the covid disaster.
    They need to be qualified specialist in their fields on the WHO board.
    We need to hold then accountable for the outbreak worldwide.

  2. The WHO has led a campaign of fear, paranoia, lies and propaganda and its time to clean that organization up. Throw out the criminals involved in deceit and fraud and put them in prison.
    There is a list of far more dangerous than contagious diseases, both viral and bacterial, that have never had the attention Covid-19, a much less harmful virus, has received. By now, whoever doesn’t see what’s really going on needs to stop listening to and watching mainstream media. It’s not about a virus, it’s about human control by global elites. The depopulation program plays a major part in this agenda.
    The mainstream media is also complicit in these crimes praising extreme left wing fascists and supporting the UN NWO Agenda of which Gates, Fauci, US Democrats, global elites and thousands of others are part of.
    I have never in my life seen media censorship, bias and prejudice as I have witnessed in the last year. Watching most International news and South African TV is a nightmare. Besides the continuous reruns, the propaganda and misinformation is rife. Brainwashing and indoctrination of the public has caused excessive harm to the people. Inflicting fear, racism and mistrust between people. Sponsored by the Big Pharma medical industry under WHO, paid for by the IMF, WB and controlled by governments. The media is a sick and and corrupt entity.

    • Not just the WHO but the UN in totality needs to be disbanded.
      It is simply a proxy for those who are funding it to destroy nations sovereignty.
      The Media are doing what they were created for. Brainwashing and indoctrination of the public. They always play the anthem for the highest payers.

    • Completely agree save for the last sentence. I would say it should read “the media is a very, very sick and absolutely corrupt to the core entity.

  3. What an extremely well-written article/expose. I remain in awe of the quality produced by the DailyFriend writers. Harkens back to a time of real journalists, when journalism was a respected and important occupation. Extremely enlightening to me – cuts right through all the BS and confuscation one encounters in the media on a daily basis.

    • Hear hear! Back in the day, I went from eagerly reading Daily Maverick columns to only reading Ivo’s columns. There are a few other authors left at Daily Friend whose columns are still worth reading, notably Anthea Jeffries. The rest seem to be teetering on the edge of falling in line with praising China, bashing Trump, and other examples of playing politics instead of being a welcome alternative to what passes for public debate on virtually any topic with Big Tech censorship giving government a run for its tyranny money.

  4. Now I understand how and why Virodene Dlamini-Zuma was shoehorned in. Remember how she tried to sell an industrial solvent as a cure for Aids

    • I’m just surprised that the WHO hasn’t banned cigarettes yet, and that its heads don’t have selfies with contraband tobacco smugglers. Well, yet.

    • It surprised me the other day when Ivo semingly giving medical opinions on Ivomectum when he has no medical training whatsoever as far as I know,
      correct me if Im wrong. Thousamds of medical experts disagree with him.

      • It’s called Ivermectin. And all I did was repeat what the science says: there are many promising preliminary studies, but we don’t yet have results from large-scale clinical trials for the use of Ivermectin in the treatment of Covid-19. That isn’t medical advice. The medical advice in South Africa is not to use a drug that isn’t approved for use.

        • Thats not science that says that its the WHO via gov saying that to protect big pharma,its like the smoke ban which was so scientific that the high court shot it down.Ivomectin is a the actual active ingredient and it comes under different trade names one being Ivomectum ,Ivomec and lots of other trade names.Sold thousands of litres of the injectable type and there are many trails going on throughout the world the smaller ones being completed show 100% sucess rate.The biggest ongoing one is 200,000 patients and results will be interesting.The completed one with 500 patients showed 100% success even with patients who had advanced and were in hospital.Carry on with your intereting articles .

      • Nothing wrong with beetroot. No clinical trials. No double blinded studies. No published research. But you see, it’s not Big Pharma beetroot. It’s natural and organic beetroot. So it works by default.

  5. Very seldom do we dig a bit deeper about the background of officials in such important entities as the WHO is.
    This info about Tedros Ghebreyesus is mind-boggling. Once again the Bible can be quoted when it says in Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness….” and onwards – it so accurately says what is the norm today.

  6. I read all, I understand the dilemma the world is in, I appreciate the good journalistic write up, but what are we going to do?????? when our “own ” president is part of the Coup de Tait

  7. I said it before and will do so again.They are all a bunch of no brain assholes and thieves.Again have a look at their bank accounts and who deposited it.Cracker head Zuma is the no 1 in this as all she can do is screw up everything she touch.Tedros again is a stinker as every time he open his mouth a foul stench infects the earth.Get rid of all of them and try and find decent people to appoint.

  8. Ivo Vegter is always pushing the left’s narrative, sometimes gently but always pushing unacceptable narrative.
    Tedros is a UN/NWO puppet.
    Fortunately 80% of of the people see right thru him.

  9. What a great expose Ivo – YOU shoot from from the hip…it took TRUMP (the crucified) to get rid of WHO for what they are, a PUPPET of China who are well known for their Human Rights Abuse.
    Talking about a vaccine WHO went with WHO the RSA of course & WHERE is OUR vaccine = nowhere to be found!!!!!!
    Talking about vaccine’s WHY don’t the ruling party just look at INVERMECTIN? They have nothing to lose – it has been around for 40 years, used on animals & is CHEAP, which is a problem to these thieves, there is nothing to STEAL!!!
    I’m gonna try it – don’t need to inject, just rub it on your legs & MAYBE it works!!!!!!

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