WHO faces stiff test as world tests its authority

Gulf Today
Date: April 7, 2020
By: David Pierson, Tribune News Service

In a few awkward seconds, Bruce Aylward, a senior official at the World Health Organisation, laid

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaks at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. File/AP

bare the flaws and pressures faced by the global health agency charged with leading the response to the worst pandemic in over a century.

A video that’s since gone viral shows the distinguished Canadian epidemiologist dodging a reporter’s question about why Taiwan is not a member of the WHO. Aylward twitches and blinks. He says he cannot hear the journalist. When she offers to repeat the question, he asks her to change the subject. When she persists, he hangs up on the video chat with a Skype chime thud.

Aylward is a veteran of the United Nations’ health agency, responsible for preventing millions of children from contracting polio and stanching the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. But the agency’s limitations were starkly sketched at the mention of Taiwan. An island nation of 24 million crucial to the fight against the coronavirus, Taiwan has been blocked from joining the WHO because China considers it a renegade province.

The video exchange, health experts say, reinforced how powerful national interests are overshadowing shared interests at a time when the agency is needed to marshal a global response to an outbreak that emanated from China and is threatening to kill millions.

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