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You could have saved the world Dr Tedros but your focus is cure not prevention

As a journalist who prides himself in being a good analyst, I tend to look at facts during an investigation through every angle. I do not put on a bias cap at any point of my analysis. It is one of the reasons I am most respected in India and globally too.

I have been evaluating your role in COVID-19 response from its onset. Your role in particular because as a leader of a global organisation – the World Health Organisation (WHO), you chart the path that the organisation follows and adheres too in the moments of a crisis.

Let’s be honest. You do share a cordial relationship with China. It is a relationship that has been nurtured from your days as the Foreign and Health Minister in your country, Ethiopia.

China also reportedly backed you to get into the role of the Director-General at the World Health Organisation – a proud moment for many Africans, as you were the first African to hold the coveted post in the WHO.

Cultivating friendships has been one of your strong traits. You have over the years managed to cultivate some powerful friends in government across the world (mostly with Left ideology) and in pharmaceutical companies.

The political party you represented Tigray’s People Liberation Front is known to be notorious in Ethiopia and also features in the Global Terror Organisation Database. You were number three in this organisation according to sources in Ethiopia.

Your growth has been remarkable from a member of designated terror group to a Minister in Ethiopia and then to the Director-General of the WHO.

Let me state I have listed these facts not to be condescending to you or raise questions on your character but to let you know, even knowing these facts I am not bothered about your past. I am concerned about the present and your actions during the coronavirus pandemic.

You and I both know that the origin of the virus is Wuhan, China. 

You and I disagree on the source of the origin, you would like the world to believe that it came from the Wuhan wet market and I would like the world to know the truth that it came from the Wuhan Virology Lab.

You believe that the coronavirus is a cruel act of nature. I believe that it is China’s weapon of mass destruction. 

I might be reluctantly willing to give China a benefit of doubt that it might not have wanted the virus to leak and kill a lot of its own people. But to disregard that China has been working on such dangerous viruses is to deny that there are questionable experiments being conducted at the Wuhan lab. Wuhan labs have been under the radar of global intelligence for years.

The brutal truth is that whatever may be the truth or the speculation around the truth or the cover-up of the truth; we cannot deny that the origin of the virus is Wuhan, China.

I am willing to accept that the WHO and you worked completely under the guidance of the International Health Regulations 2005. You did!

But in my analysis the real problem or concern that led to the spread of the virus was the delay in categorising the coronavirus as a pandemic which happened on March 11th even though you declared it as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on January 30th. 

When I questioned one of your colleagues on the difference between declaration of PHEIC and categorisation of a Pandemic. I was told that a ‘Pandemic is not an alert level used under our emergency response framework’.

On March 11th when you categorised it as a Pandemic, you said, “We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic. Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”

When you categorised COVID-19 as a Pandemic on March 11, there were 118,000 cases in 174 countries.

Even during the 2009 Swine Flu. Dr Margaret Chan, former Director-General of the WHO declared PHEIC on April 25, 2009 and then on June 11, 2009 categorised it as a Pandemic when there were 30,000 cases in 74 countries. Again after nearly six-weeks.

I am failing to understand why is that WHO categorises a Pandemic in both cases six-weeks later but does not consider a Pandemic as an alert-level used under WHO’s emergency response framework.

It feels by using the PHEIC, which most nations ignore, WHO takes cover saying that the world had enough time to act. Even though, it is clearly evident no nation takes the PHEIC declaration seriously. It takes the categorisation off a Pandemic more serious.

When you categorised COVID-19 as a pandemic is when 95-countries around the world initiated partial or full-lockdown not when WHO declared PHEIC.

Which brings me to the most pertinent question if Pandemic is not an alert-level response under WHO’s emergency framework then why at both instances Dr Margaret Chan in 2009 and you in 2020, categorised a PHEIC as a Pandemic after six-weeks.

From January 30th to March 11th, world over people continued to travel. People from Wuhan, China travelled to and from different parts of the world.

The first three cases in India had been people who travelled to Wuhan. India’s first reported case was on January 30th. This person travelled to Wuhan and returned back to India.

You decided to stand in defence of your friend the Chinese president Xi Jinping. You personally objected to travel restriction to and from China. You said, ‘If anyone is thinking about taking measures, it’s going to be wrong. And WHO doesn’t recommend, and actually opposes, any restrictions for travel and trade or other measures against China.”

Dr Tedros you had asserted in a global media briefing that the vast majority of cases outside China have a travel history to Wuhan, or contact with someone with a travel history to Wuhan. Then why did you object to travel restrictions to Wuhan, China.

Dr Tedros you even stated on January 30th that “We know that there is human-to-human transmission in China, but for now it appears limited to family groups and health workers caring for infected patients. At this time, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”

China by January 30th had over 7700 cases while the world had only 82 cases. You knew that there was a rapidly increasing surge in China through human-to-human transmission over the 15-days since China reported no-clear evidence of human-to-human transmission; which WHO Twitter handle tweeted as is – meaning a copy paste of China’s report without agreeing or disagreeing. Yet PHEIC happened on January 30th but Pandemic categorisation happened on March 11, six weeks later.

Correct me if I am wrong:

As a result of lessons learned from the influenza A(H1N1) 2009 pandemic, the 2013 Guidance revises WHO’s approach to global phases of pandemic events. The phases include the inter-pandemic phase (the period between influenza pandemics); the alert phase (when influenza caused by a new subtype has been identified in humans); the pandemic phase (the period of global spread); and the transition phase (the de-escalation phase). These global phases are to be used to describe a new influenza subtype’s spread, “taking account of the disease it causes, around the world,” and are “clearly uncoupled from risk management decisions and actions at the country level.”

The Guidance points out that “[t]he global phases and their application in risk management are distinct from (1) the determination of a PHEIC [Public Health Emergency of International Concern] under the IHR (2005) and (2) the declaration of a pandemic.”The WHO Director-General is responsible for determining a PHEIC, under article 12 of the IHR; that determination leads to the communication of temporary recommendations. The Director-General may also declare a pandemic “during the period of spread of human influenza caused by a new subtype, and appropriate to the situation.”

You could have declared a Pandemic earlier. But you waited for six-weeks by that time the coronavirus spread rapidly across the world.

You could have saved the world Dr Tedros but you chose to be a politician first, DG of the WHO second and a human last.

You can continue to talk about solidarity, solidarity, solidarity but remember prevention is better than cure. It feels as though you were focused on the cure, than the prevention.

At this stage we are over 3.4 million positive COVID-19 infected cases and over 344,000 deaths. You focus even now seems to be the cure – the vaccine and not the prevention.

That is what is troubling me. If cure was your focus and is your focus. Then preventing the spread would have never been your concern.

You say we have to learn to live with the virus. I am saying you allowed this virus to spread by your dereliction of duty for reasons that need a serious investigation.

Prevention is better than cure is not an adage that will benefit pharmaceutical companies, a cure would. That in my analysis is the game.

The game is the sale of a vaccine. The sale of a cure.

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