The World Health Organization chief on Thursday rejected as false an allegation by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he owed his position to a deal with China.
Pompeo told a private meeting of MPs on Tuesday that the WHO had become a “political” body, alleging that its decisions were influenced by a deal struck between chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and China that helped him become its head, according to quotes in the Times and Daily Telegraph.
“When push came to shove, when it really mattered most”, people died “because of the deal that was made”, he said.
Asked about Pompeo’s allegations during a virtual press conference, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said they were “untrue and unacceptable and without any foundation for that matter.”
He insisted that the “sole focus… of the entire organisation is on saving lives. WHO will not be distracted by these comments and we don’t want the entire international community also to be distracted.”
— Digital Journal (@digitaljournal) July 23, 2020
He reiterated his warning that one of the “greatest threats in the current crisis is the “politicisation of the pandemic”.
‘COVID politics’ while quarantining
Tedros appealed to all countries to work together in the fight against the virus, which has claimed more than 627,000 lives worldwide since it first emerged in China late last year.
“COVID-19 does not respect borders, ideologies or political parties,” he said, warning that “politics and partisanship have made things worse.”
“COVID politics should be quarantined.”
Tedros has for months faced relentless attacks from US President Donald Trump, who has accused WHO of botching the global coronavirus response and of being a “puppet of China”.
Prior US-WHO tensions
Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw in May, accusing the WHO, without evidence, of withholding information, and of being too close to China. The letter confirming the move was delivered to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, officials confirmed on Tuesday.
A WHO official said: “We have received reports that the US has submitted formal notification to the UN secretary general that it is withdrawing from WHO effective 6 July 2021.”
Trump’s Democratic challenger for the presidency, Joe Biden, said he would return the US to the WHO before the year-long process of withdrawal was complete.
“Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health,” Biden said on Twitter. “On my first day as President, I will rejoin the @WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.”
The formal withdrawal was confirmed as the number of US coronavirus cases approached 3 million, with 130,000 deaths so far.
Earlier this month he made good on his threat to begin withdrawing the US — traditionally WHO’s largest donor — from the organisation, even as it works to coordinate the global response to the coronavirus crisis.
WHO practicing what it preaches
WHO COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove, who is an American citizen, also pushed back Thursday against the charges lobbed against the UN agency.
@WHO Director General opening remarks July 23rd:
"Almost 10 million cases, or two-thirds of all cases globally, are from 10 countries, and almost half of all cases reported so far are from just three countries."https://t.co/ruGrBSKS0f
— Constantinos Tsioutis (@TsioutisC) July 23, 2020
“I have never be more proud to be WHO,” she said.
“I see first hand every day the work that Dr. Tedros does… that our teams do, all over the world,” she said, insisting the entire organisation was “firmly focused on saving lives.”
At Thursday’s press conference, Tedros also stressed the importance of individual responsibility in the global bid to halt the spread of the virus, pointing to a range of fresh outbreaks associated with nightclubs and social gatherings.
“We’re asking everyone to treat the decisions about where they go, what they do and who they meet with as life-and-death decisions,” he said.
“It may not be your life, but your choices could be the difference between life and death for someone you love, or for a complete stranger,” he stressed.
“Don’t expect someone else to keep you safe. We all have a part to play in protecting ourselves and one another.”
A WHO advance team has been in China for nearly two weeks, organising a WHO-led international mission to investigate the origins of the virus. Scientists believe it emerged in a food market in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
“We are already beginning to reach out to experts at the international level to see who will be available and most appropriate to be able to support an international mission in the coming weeks,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, said at the briefing.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk