A group of independent experts who reviewed the World Health Organization's response to the coronavirus pandemic recently criticized the panel for failing to hold WHO and others accountable for their actions during COVID-19, describing that as “an abdication of responsibility.”
One of the experts, Professor Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University said the panel "fails to call out bad actors like China, perpetuating the dysfunctional WHO tradition of diplomacy over transparency and accountability.”
Speaking exclusively to Republic Media Network's Sanika Kanekar, Gostin explained why it is important for a global health body to be transparent and call out certain countries and world leaders for impeding the global response to a pandemic.
“I agree there was a lot of blame to go around as the pandemic was amplified since China did not report to the WHO early. Even after learning about the pandemic, many countries including the US under Donald Trump did not react well to the crisis. But there is a long tradition in the WHO of never naming a bad actor/a government/a political leader.
The truth is that sometimes we do need to call out bad actors. We do need to be honest and transparent when an individual or a country is impeding the global response. So, I think the independent panel could have given a political cover to WHO. It should have called out names including China or leaders like (Brazilian President Jair) Bolsonaro, Trump and even PM Narendra Modi for the current wave of COVID-19 in India,” he said.
During the conversation, Lawrence Gostin also expressed his opinion on a 2015 US military report which claims that China may be using the deadly Coronavirus as a ‘bio weapon’ against its enemies. Sticking to the WHO panel’s findings, Gostin said it is highly unlikely that a virus such as COVID-19 would have occurred in a laboratory and not out of natural circumstances. He however extended supported the scientist community demanding a full-fledged investigation into the origin of Coronavirus in China.
“There has been a long-standing concern that the initial pandemic had originated at Wuhan institute lab. But the WHO’s report on the origin of the pandemic found that such a possibility was highly unlikely and that it probably was a naturally occurring event where a virus in a bat infected human and started the pandemic. More than 70% of all novel outbreaks are naturally occurring and it is very rare for a lab. I don’t think it originated in a laboratory.
But nonetheless, I do support scientists who are now calling on China to allow a full investigation both at the lab and in southern China as it was first reported there. We have a right to know because it will help in ending the pandemic and prevent the next one. China should cooperate with the rest of the world on this,” said Gostin.
When asked how can global powers and world leaders seek accountability on the spread of this pandemic, Prof Lawrence Gostin said that a new ‘pandemic treaty’ is being set up with strong enforcement provisions so it can freely conduct investigations and hold leaders accountable for mishandling the pandemic.
“There is a lot of concern about how we can get large political actors like the European Union, the United States and India to always cooperate with international authorities and to have these authorities to independently verify these reports (concerning virus) and gain access to their territories to investigate and also to help in the outbreak response.
There are a lot of ideas in this direction. The World Health Assembly is coming up this month. One of the things suggested by the independent panel and WHO is that the new ‘pandemic treaty’ should have strong provisions for enforcement compliance, transparency and accountability. But the world powers will have to get behind it,” he said.
According to Prof Gostin, the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave a grant to the Eco Health Alliance to study the genetic composition of Coronaviruses in bats. That was a very worthwhile study to fund and it was conducted partially at the Wuhan institute.
“But Dr Fauci’s organisation (NIAID) did not fund any research to enhance the capabilities of the virus or to make it more transmissible or pathogenic. These claims are false. The grant was for legitimate purposes. We should not follow conspiracy theories,” he said.
As US President Joe Biden gave his nod to temporarily waive off IP rights for vaccines, Gostin said there is a long time until WTO clears the waiver as it still faces opposition from the EU. In the meantime, the expert said, the countries need to transfer technology and provide manufacturing capacity to vaccine companies in India.
“India has gone through a horrible tragedy and the world needs to support the country with vaccines, with diagnostic kits, oxygen tanks and a whole range of medical resources urgently. India and South Africa together have put in a proposal to the WTO to temporarily waive IP rights for vaccines, diagnostics and treatments. I support that waiver and their proposal and so are 100 other countries. Recently Biden said he would too support waiver for the vaccines. That is a huge sea change for the US. I never thought of a day when a US President would waive off IP rights against the implacable objectives of the pharmaceuticals industry."
"Now it will take a lot of time for the WTO to ensure that it comes to fruition as there is still opposition from European countries. There is a long time before the vaccine waiver is imposed. But we do not have time. We have to do more than an IP waiver. We need to transfer technology and increase manufacturing capacity for vaccine companies. We need to provide raw materials to these manufacturers like Serum in India to ramp up global supply. This is a global health emergency. We need to do something big and bold,” said Gostin.