Has the World Health Organization bungled the coronavirus response?

Has the World Health Organization bungled the coronavirus response?

In recent weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) has come under fire for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. US President Donald Trump in particular has blasted the organization for being too lenient with China over Beijing's opaque mismanagement of the initial outbreak, prompting his decision this week to freeze funding to the organization for 60-days. But what actually is the World Health Organization and why does any of this matter? We break it down here.


How does WHO operate? The World Health Organization is the arm of the United Nations that's responsible for international public health and is charged with leading responses to global health emergencies by delivering essential medical resources to countries with weak infrastructure, monitoring data on unfolding crises, and helping to find vaccines to prevent deadly outbreaks of disease. (It acts as a global hub for information on the dozens of COVID-19 vaccines currently in development.)

All UN member states can become members of the global health organization by paying yearly dues — which are called "assessed contributions" – that are calculated based on the size of each country's population and economy. On top of this, countries and NGOs also support the WHO with voluntary contributions, which make up about three quarters of the organization's funding. The US is by far the largest single funder of the 194-member World Health Organization, contributing as much as $500 million every two years in dues and voluntary contributions. That's why Trump's decision to cut funds is such a huge blow to WHO.

Who's criticizing WHO? Recent criticism of the organization has centered on two main themes:

"The organization waffled in its messaging on COVID-19, and was too slow to declare a public health emergency." Even as late as mid-January, when the number of coronavirus cases outside China was already rising, WHO said there was no proof of human-to-human transmission of the disease, rebuffing warnings, including an emphatic appeal from Taiwanese officials in late December, that the novel coronavirus was spreading rapidly. It wasn't until mid-March, after the number of COVID-19 cases outside China increased 13-fold in just 14 days, that WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. In dragging its feet in addressing the contagion, critics argue, WHO failed to encourage states to take the virus seriously.

For its part, WHO says that it relies on the willingness of member states to cooperate, and does not have the mandate to enter any country "uninvited." WHO officials were only granted access to ground zero of the coronavirus — in a joint mission led by both WHO and Chinese officials — in mid-February.

"The organization has been differential to China, exacerbating the virus' spread." The agency's detractors say that despite growing evidence that the Chinese government knew about the seriousness of the coronavirus in December, and that it had strong-armed Wuhan's scientists into suppressing the data, WHO continued to praise Beijing's response to the crisis – and made little effort to independently verify Chinese government data. As late as mid-January, WHO officials still took at face value Beijing's assertions that the virus was "preventable and controllable" even as new cases appeared outside of China.

But the agency's defenders say, again, that the organization's powers over individual governments are limited, meaning WHO relies on the veracity of member states' information to coordinate an effective response. True, but back in 2003 — when SARS spread in a China that was much less powerful than it is today — WHO was freer in its criticism of Beijing's efforts to suppress data.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.

But barely two years later, Abiy stands accused of overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the northern Tigray region, putting the country on the brink of civil war.

It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.

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Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, for instance, which is shut out from COVAX due to US sanctions imposed on the Maduro regime.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power — following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars — in a bid to exert its superpower bonafides.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Cyber issues took center stage at the G7 summit. Is there a consensus among world leaders on how to handle cyberweapons?

Well, depending on who is included, there is a growing consensus that the escalations of conflict in cyberspace must stop. And G7 leaders that are now all representing democracies did call on Russia to hold perpetrators of cybercrime that operate from within its borders to account. So, I guess hope dies last because laws in Russia prevents the extradition of suspects to the US, even if Vladimir Putin answered positively when Joe Biden asked for cooperation on that front. And when it comes to limiting the spread of tools that are used for hacking, surveillance and infiltration, the EU has just moved ahead and adopted new dual use regulations which reflect the concerns for human rights violations when journalists are targeted the way that Jamal Khashoggi was. So ending the proliferation of systems that are used to attack would be an urgent but also obvious step for democratic nations to agree on.

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Frequently called Europe's last dictator, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Lukashenko has sailed smoothly to victory in all six elections he's stood in, despite widespread corruption and fraud in each one. But in 2020 the biggest threat so far to Lukashenko's tight grip on government came in an unlikely package—a former schoolteacher and stay at home mom, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. After the election result was finalized, Lukashenko claimed victory, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, and Tsikhanouskaya leads the opposition in exile. Lukashenko recently took his boldest move yet, diverting a plane en route from Greece to Lithuania to arrest another Belarusian dissident. Ian Bremmer discusses whether a democratic transition is remotely possible in Belarus on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The fight for democracy in Europe's last dictatorship

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