Our elected government recently attacked the World Health Organization by cutting off funding. This decision was wrong -- and dangerous. I worked in direct support of WHO on four continents for more than 14 years. The organization is not perfect, but then again, neither are we.
American funding must be restored as soon as possible. Halting financial support to the WHO in the middle of a global pandemic is an act of self-destructive madness. This life-saving UN organization is, in fact, our first line of defense. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regularly profits from close interaction with WHO. This critically important relationship must be maintained -- and expanded.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims that the WHO failed to enforce International Health Regulations. I have friends at the State Department. I am certain that one or more could have informed Mr. Pompeo--and perhaps they did--that the WHO possesses no enforcement mechanisms. The world’s premier global health agency is wholly dependent upon the good will of the nearly 200 sovereign states that constitute the United Nations. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus is an international civil servant. He can demand nothing of nation-states, in this case, China.
There is no question that China could have been a good deal more forthcoming concerning the very real danger of the coronavirus in the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan. There is also no doubt that had the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping via his health ministry been more transparent with WHO representatives, more lives might have been spared among the international community. However, this is in no way the fault of Mr. Ghebreyeus. His agency is successful only when allowed access to a country after being granted permission. The director general, in order to do his job, must therefore maintain good relations with all UN member states. That’s no easy task in an ever-more multi-polar world.
If one wonders about the performance of the WHO, we need look no farther than the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, staff members regularly and repeatedly endangered their own lives in order to defeat a deadly adversary. Their brave efforts were ultimately successful.
Our Congress--the source of all funding--needs to get involved immediately to restore full financial support to this very necessary agency. The WHO requires all the help we can provide. It is clearly in our interests and the interests of our children and their children.
This will not be the last pandemic.
Robert Bruce Adolph is a former Army special forces lieutenant colonel and United Nations chief security adviser, who holds graduate degrees in both international affairs and national security studies and strategy. His work has appeared in nearly every U.S. military publication of note. Most recently, he penned the commentary series “Dispatch from Rome” for the Military Times. Adolph also recently published the book entitled “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge.”