Azar Blames Deaths On WHO In Fiery Speech To World Health Assembly
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar lambasted the World Health Organization Monday, saying that the organization had failed in its role of being a global health leader and “that failure cost us many lives” in the official U.S. address to the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly.
In a virtual address to the World Health Assembly, Azar said that the WHO “failed at its core mission of sharing and transparency” as coronavirus spread around the world.
The WHO has received condemnation from U.S. officials and many others in the international community for failing to challenge information coming from the Chinese government earlier this year that denied the virus was spreading.
On Jan. 14, the WHO said that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus” after reviewing information from Chinese officials.
Azar added that “the status quo is intolerable” at WHO, suggesting that the organization worked with China “in an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak.”
As the virus ramped up its spread across the U.S. in April, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would stop funding the World Health Organization — a decision that itself brought condemnation from the medical community inside the U.S. and around the world for its timing in the midst of a global pandemic, though he is now considering whether to restore at least some of the U.S. funding.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has criticized Trump’s approach and defended the actions of the WHO, saying at a news conference in April that “if you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”
Azar made his comments Monday to the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly, with its 192 member states serving as the supreme governing body over the WHO, with those states able to give an address to the Assembly.
The Assembly usually meets in May of every year in Geneva, Switzerland, is holding this year’s event — the 73rd annual — virtually because of coronavirus.
Azar’s comments come as the U.S. is weighing whether to restore funding to the WHO, which it contributed over $400 million to in 2019 — more than double the next largest contributor.
According to the State Department, China — which addressed the Assembly before the U.S. — only gave around $44 million in 2019. During its address, Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to finally relent to a WHO-led investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, amid growing international pressure after over 120 countries said they’d like to see an independent investigation.
“There was a failure by this organization to obtain information that the world needed, and that failure cost us many lives,” Azar said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The WHO said on Monday that it would hold an independent review into its handling of coronavirus “at the earliest possible appropriate moment.”