During its 73rd meeting, the World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted a landmark resolution to bring the world together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It calls for the intensification of efforts to control the pandemic, and for equitable access to and fair distribution of all essential health technologies and products to combat the virus. It also calls for an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the global response, including, but not limited to, WHO’s performance.
As WHO convened ministers of health from almost every country in the world, the consistent message throughout the two-day meeting—including from the 14 heads of state participating in the opening and closing sessions — was that global unity is the most powerful tool to combat the outbreak. The resolution is a concrete manifestation of this call, and a roadmap for controlling the outbreak.
In his opening remarks to the WHA, the WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, defended the WHO’s response, saying that it sounded the alarm early and often and notified countries and issued guidance for healthcare workers within the first 10 days. He added that the WHO issued the highest alert level on Jan 30, when there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths outside of China.
He detailed the WHO’s efforts to ship tests and supplies to more than 120 countries, train 2.6 million healthcare workers, and organize massive efforts to speed research on treatments and vaccines. “Every country and every organization must examine its response and learn from its experience,” Tedros said.
US Criticises WHO
The US representative to the WHA—Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar—copied President Trump’s line in blaming China for the current situation. Azar strongly criticized the WHO. “We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control: There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives,” he said.
He said the United States has been transparent about drug and vaccine treatment trial results, which will benefit the whole world: “WHO’s operations must be transparent too, and we support an independent review of every aspect of WHO’s response to the pandemic.”
In a thinly veiled criticism of China, Azar said one country, in concealing its outbreak, made a “mockery” of transparency obligations, which resulted in tremendous costs to the rest of the world.
China Supports Probe
Meanwhile in his address to the WHA, China’s President Xi Jinping said it supports a comprehensive review of the pandemic, once the virus is under control, Reuters reported.
China had opposed earlier calls for similar investigations from the United States and Australia, but Xi said the country would be open to an impartial review that shares lessons and highlights weaknesses, led by the WHO with objectivity and fairness.
He defended China’s actions as transparent and timely, and he pledged $2 billion over the next 2 years to help with the COVID-19 response. Also, Xi vowed that China’s vaccine, which entered human trials on 16 March, would be available to the rest of the world to help slow the spread of the virus.
In his closing remarks, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “COVID-19 has robbed us of people we love. It’s robbed us of lives and livelihoods; it’s shaken the foundations of our world; it threatens to tear at the fabric of international cooperation. But it’s also reminded us that for all our differences, we are one human race, and we are stronger together.”