As reported on the BBC today:

The [US] president accused the WHO of being "very China-centric" and said they "really blew" their pandemic response.

Dr Tedros has now dismissed the comments, insisting: "We are close to every nation, we are colour-blind."

After first attacking the WHO on Tuesday, President Trump renewed his criticism at his press briefing on Wednesday, saying the organization must "get its priorities right". He said the US would conduct a study to decide whether the US would continue paying contributions [...]

On Tuesday, President Trump had said the WHO appeared to be "very biased toward China".

"They called it wrong. They really - they missed the call," he said. "And we're going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We're going to put a very powerful hold on it, and we're going to see."

Clearly (from the same article) Tedros has rejected the notion that the WHO has a China-bias, but have they said anything more specifically rejecting the other accusations, i.e. that they "really blew" their response and that they "missed the call" (when the pandemic started)?


Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, vowed there would not be any funding for the WHO in the next Senate appropriations bill.

"I'm in charge of the appropriations subcommittee. I'm not going to support funding the WHO under its current leadership. They've been deceptive, they've been slow, and they've been Chinese apologists," Graham said in an interview with Fox News.

Last week, Republican Senator Marco Rubio called for the resignation of WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying "he allowed Beijing to use the WHO to mislead the global community".

These latter accusations from Republican senators are even more direct and specific (than "blew"), accusing the WHO of deliberate deception, in cahoots with Beijing, besides being "slow".

Thanks to @ItalianPhilosophers for finding this, Fox News has been emphasizing this bit in their coverage of the Republican-WHO spat:

Last month, Taiwan accused the WHO of ignoring a warning it sent in December about human-to-human transmission of coronavirus. “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,” the organization tweeted in January.

Which may be what the US Republicans are alluding to with "slow".

Somewhat more obvious/predictible, Fox News is critical of the WHO's criticism of the US travel ban:

the WHO responded to Trump’s travel ban on foreign nationals coming from China by saying that “travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation” of coronavirus cases and instead could have a “have a significant economic and social impact.”

Criticism of the travel ban and other pro-China statements have brought renewed questions about the U.S. funding the agency.

(The latter issue has been the topic of two separate questions here e.g., so I don't want to reash that.)

If the WHO itself has not replied to those (other) allegations of Trump/Republicans/Fox-News/Taiwan more specifically, has the WHO's record in this respect been defended by others, e.g. has the press said anything in support/defence of WHO's actions in response to the pandemic that can address some of Trump's accusations (from those quotes that I have emphasized)?

  • 9
    This seems like a pointless question. You quote the WHO's statement in your question. What would be the point of a further defense? Trump's supporters won't believe it, everyone else knows that Trump is lying.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 9, 2020 at 3:19
  • 3
    "They (really) blew it" isn't an accusation to defend. It's a meaningless soundbite that gets across the idea of displeasure or disapproval without conveying any useful information about what exactly counts as "blowing it" and what would have been necessary to avoid that. The question really does seem pointless - any 'defence' that sufficiently counters such an 'accusation' would be as easy as nuh-uh. Being "very biased towards China" is already addressed as quoted in the same article. What else can possibly be expected here?
    – Nij
    Apr 9, 2020 at 4:44
  • 5
    they "really blew" their pandemic response. talk about the kettle calling the pot black. I don't even think he has the self-awareness to be lying about it, he's probably convinced he's right. Apr 9, 2020 at 4:56
  • 2
    foxnews.com/politics/… It's actually amusing to read Fox News nowadays. Every so often you see some really bitter comment posts about Trump and this mess. Looks like either some of their regulars are starting to wonder. Or outsiders are trolling them. Not that any leader could have fixed this, no matter how competent, but some are clearly worse than others. Apr 9, 2020 at 5:11
  • 2
    I vote to close this question. On one hand we have a NGO that has no effective power except to advise, train, and help nations cope with large-scale illnesses; on the other hand we have a notorious bully who is looking for someone to blame for his own mismanagement of this crisis. Trump is attacking WHO because Trump is relying on his 'China travel ban' to show his decisive handling of the pandemic, and is angry that WHO suggested travel bans are not an effective technique. It's bad form to ask someone to defend themselves from the spurious accusations of a bully. Apr 9, 2020 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


For what's worth it, Al Jazeera quoted a third-party defence of the WHO:

Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, said the last thing the US and the WHO need right now is this sort of a fight.

"It is a distraction from the need to focus on defeating this pandemic," he told Al Jazeera.

"No virus has a nationality and it is down to how the countries have handled the threat. The core information that was needed to understand this risk was available by the end of January - and it was available through the WHO. That information still is very accurate in terms of transmissibility and lethality of this disease, so that really should have been all for any country to take it seriously," Konyndyk said.

"In general, I think the WHO has been further ahead of the curve and understanding the risk of the virus than Trump's own administration has, so I don't think WHO is to be blamed for the US's sluggish response."

And also added this on their own:

The WHO declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on January 30, nearly a month before Trump tweeted: "The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA," and a full 43 days before he declared a national emergency in the US.

I'll accept a better answer in the sense that I asked in the question, i.e. if the WHO themselves explicitly defended their record/actions in response to those Republican accusations.

Similarly the Guardian has an article defending the WHO with extensive quotes from experts and among those they've quoted a WHO official too (Lawrence Gostin):

WHO’s total annual budget is about $2.5bn, and contributions from member states have not significantly increased over three decades.

“The WHO’s budget is around the equivalent of a large US hospital, which is utterly incommensurate with its global responsibilities,” said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law professor at Georgetown University. [He also holds a WHO position, as made clear later in the article.] “So, if the US president were a global health leader, he’d be leading a call to at minimum double the WHO budget in the face of this pandemic.” [...]

“I have been a longstanding critic and I’ve described their performance on Ebola as catastrophic. But I think overall their performance on this outbreak has been, not perfect, but pretty good,” Ashish Jha, a public health professor at Harvard, said.

“They’ve been very transparent as much as they have known the data. They have had daily calls, they have been very clear about the severity of this illness, and how the global community has to respond.”

Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, took part in WHO conference calls about coronavirus from 7 January, according to sources familiar with the conversations.

Gavin Yamey, the director of Duke University’s center for policy impact in global health, said: “If the United States had followed the WHO’s very clear advice on identifying cases, isolating cases and conducting contact tracing, then it wouldn’t be in the appalling situation that it is in today.”

Despite its declaration, the WHO did not advocate travel restrictions of the sort imposed by Trump a day later on non-American travellers arriving from China. The president has pointed to this as an example of bad advice. But Gostin, who is director of the WHO centre on global health law, said that the organisation cannot generally call for travel bans under international law – and such bans can be counterproductive, leading countries to withhold vital information for fear of economic isolation.

To blame the WHO for acting on the basis of international law and science in ways that are entirely consistent with what WHO practices have been for decades is the height of hypocrisy,” he said.

Trump claimed that his ban “shut down” intercontinental transmission of the virus, but an ABC television investigation found that there were 3,200 flights from China to the US in the critical period between December and March.

The Guardian article does grant the WHO critics some points on Taiwan:

The US president’s accusations that the WHO is “China-centric” have more resonance with public health scholars. The WHO has largely excluded Taiwan from its discussions, and dodged questions about the Taiwanese response, which has been one of the most effective. But because of pressure from Beijing – which sees Taiwan as an integral part of its territory and opposes any form of recognition – the blindspot is a UN-wide phenomenon.

“I think the effusive praise for China, in the early days, was probably unnecessary,” Jha said.

Amanda Glassman, the executive vice-president and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, said a deeper problem is the WHO’s low budget and relatively toothless structure. Unlike the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has no redress against governments that do not cooperate.

“It operates in countries at the pleasure and permission of the host country governments. So in the case of China, to be allowed to enter China, it was a negotiation to get there,” Glassman said.

After the US has suspended funding to the WHO they offered a bit more in terms of a defense (May 1 or 2):

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave a robust defence of his and the WHO’s “timely” actions in declaring the new coronavirus an international emergency at the end of January.

The Jan. 30 declaration was made in “enough time for the rest of the world to respond” because at that stage outside China there were only 82 cases of infection and no deaths, he said.

Tedros said the WHO, which is seeking to lead the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, had used the days before declaring the global emergency as time to visit China to learn more about the new virus.

During that visit, they also won a “ground-breaking agreement” with China to send in investigators, Tedros said.

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