Trump’s claims about the WHO fact-checked

The WHO's Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus with President Xi in late January
- Advertisement -

US President Donald Trump says the World Health Organization (WHO) has mismanaged and helped to cover up the spread of the coronavirus after it emerged in China.

But the WHO has defended its handling of the early stages of the pandemic.

We’ve been looking at some of the charges President Trump has levelled against the WHO.

Presentational grey line

Claim 1

“The WHO failed to adequately obtain, vet and share information in a timely and transparent fashion.”

The WHO says it acted properly in accordance with the information it was given by China, sharing it with medical and scientific experts around the world, including from the US.

But the WHO does not have the power to enforce or compel countries to hand over information.

It was told by China of “a pneumonia of an unknown cause” on 31 December 2019, it says.

Then, on 5 January, the WHO put out an official statement saying it had asked for more information about the illness from the Chinese authorities.

On 12 January, China publicly shared the genetic sequence for the new coronavirus.

On 20 and 21 January, a regional WHO team visited Wuhan.

And on 22 January, a detailed public statement was issued about what they had discovered.

On 28 January, WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus went to Beijing to discuss the outbreak with China’s leaders.

And by the end of January, the WHO had declared the outbreak a public-health emergency of global concern.

Although, one report says WHO experts (drawn from 15 countries including China) met a week earlier to discuss whether to issue a global alert but could not agree among themselves.

Presentational grey line

Claim 2

“Through the middle of January, it parroted… the idea that there was no human-to-human transmission happening despite… clear evidence to the contrary.”

On 14 January, the WHO tweeted: “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”Skip Twitter post 2 by @WHOWorld Health Organization (WHO)@WHO

Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China????????.

But the same day, WHO emerging diseases unit acting head Maria van Kerkhove told journalists Wuhan had seen “limited” human-to-human transmission.

There was no clear evidence for “sustained” human-to-human transmission.

But there was the potential for the virus to spread wider.

And “we need to prepare ourselves”.

Then, in its public statement on 22 January, the WHO confirmed there was clear evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan.

And it denies allegations, published by the German magazine Der Spiegel, it held back information about human-to-human transmission at China’s request.

Presentational grey line

Claim 3

“The WHO [is] funded largely by the United States, yet is very China-centric.”

The US is one of the biggest contributors to the WHO, accounting for just under 15% of its funding in the past financial year.

But the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also a major contributor, as are the UK and Germany.

A building of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020

The WHO did publicly praise China’s response to the coronavirus and its “commitment to transparency”.

Dr Michael Ryan, of the WHO, says the organisation wanted to keep the lines of communication open with China as it battled to contain the virus.

And President Trump himself praised China’s initial response, on 24 January.

But public health expert Lawrence Gostin told BBC News: “Constructive criticism of the WHO’s effusive praise for China is warranted.”

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!

End of Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

The WHO has also been accused of being unduly influenced by Beijing over the issue of Taiwan.

Taiwan is not a WHO member, as the island is not recognised by the UN.

But, the WHO says, it does share information with it.

Taiwan says it raised the alarm about the possible spread of the virus at the end of December after some of its scientists had visited Wuhan.

But the evidence published so far shows Taiwan’s exchanges with the WHO did not specifically mention human-to-human transmission.

Taiwan says its warnings were ignored or not taken seriously.

But the WHO denies this.

Presentational grey line

Claim 4

“One of the most dangerous decisions… from the WHO was… to oppose travel restrictions. They actually fought us.”

The US restricted travel from China and other countries from 2 February.

But there is no record of the WHO publicly criticising this move.

And it would have been highly unusual for it to do so.

China Eastern plane in air
The US introduced restrictions on flights from China in early February

But it had, on 10 January, put out advice recommending no international travel restrictions in response to the virus.

And this was reconfirmed in a statement at the end of February, saying travel bans were not usually that effective and could have an adverse social and economic impact, although they might be justified for a short period of time at the start of an outbreak.

- Advertisement -