Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization. Pool / GETTY IMAGES
The GOP is, so far, pinning blame for the gross mismanagement of the pandemic on four things—none of which, of course, includes them. One is Obama, another is China, another is the impeachment hearings, and the last is the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Since the beginning of April, the fourth object of blame has been gaining traction in mainstream media. There are two reason for this. One, Ghebreyesus came under criticism from Taiwan for not being critical enough of China during the early stages of the crisis. Two, the very fact that a black African is running a globally important institute will strike many white American voters as the manifestation of affirmative action on a global level. He is there not because he knows what he is doing, but because he is a black man in a position that should have gone to a qualified white man. Therefore, we are paying a heavy price for leftist political correctness.
There is no way to stop millions of white Americans from thinking in this way. But Ghebreyesus is in fact the head of this institution for a very good reason. He had considerable success as the top health official of a “underdeveloped” country, Ethiopia.
…as Minister of Health, Tedros received praise for a number of innovative and system-wide health reforms that substantially improved access to health services and key outcomes. Amongst them were hiring and training roughly 40,000 female health extension workers, cutting infant mortality from 123 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 88 in 2011, and increasing the hiring of health cadres including medical doctors and midwives. In July 2009, he was elected Board Chair of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for a two-year term.
These achievements are significant because a large part of the world lives in conditions that are similar to Ethiopia. The West, or the “developed” countries, are supposed to have the means to deal with public health challenges, and so appointing a WHO director from that part of the world does not make that much sense. What the United Nations needed, when it appointed Ghebreyesus in 2017, was an expert with a solid record when it came to social conditions that are challenged by a lack of economic and technological resources, professionals, and political stability. This is Ghebreyesus. This is the man politicians in the richest country in the world are blaming for the present crisis.
Despite governing a country with the resources to handle the present pandemic, which has its origin in China, and being given enough time to prepare for its arrival on US soil, senators on the right are, in part, claiming that they failed to act because Ghebreyesus failed to act.
Here is the foundation that the GOP’s WHO blame is built upon:
More concerning is Tedros’ delay in declaring COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). On January 23, the WHO’s emergency committee was split on whether to declare a PHEIC. With final authority resting with the DG, Tedros decided to wait despite admitting that “this is an emergency in China.” A week later, he declared a PHEIC. By that point, confirmed cases of COVID-19 had increased tenfold with 7,781 cases across 18 countries. John Mackenzie, a member of the WHO executive committee, publicly stated that international action would have been different if not for China’s “reprehensible” obfuscation of outbreak’s extent.
The thing to keep in mind is that on January 30, WHO did declare a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern). And so, the organization was able to correct its assessment of the situation within a week, despite disinformation or under-reporting from China. This gave the West, the rich countries, a solid two months to prepare for the pandemic.
Only at the beginning of April did Georgia officially act on the crisis. Florida is still permitting church people to gather (religious services are considered essential). Other GOP states have yet to even issue stay-at-home orders. And even progressive Dem states like New York, Washington, and California only acted a month and a half after the WHO’s PHEIC.
So, what is the essence of the GOP’s strategy? To introduce their voters to a man who does not look like them, who indeed looks like the kind of people who are thrown into the US’s massive prison system, and to say: If a white man was in charge, this would have never happened. Do not blame us white politicians. Our only fault was believing a black man was up to the job. Clearly he was not. Blame the Ethiopian, and also his love for another inferior race, the Chinese. The terrifying thing is the US’s racist history makes this political option viable.