Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Author: Caleb Gorton, UN Matters Chief Editor
The 29th April marked 120 days since the World Health Organisation (WHO) was notified of what is now known as COVID-19.
Since the virus was first detected in Wuhan, over 3 million cases have been confirmed in the world. Over 215,000 people have died. The world has changed so much that the pandemic is being compared to the Second World War. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most dangerous challenges this world has faced in our lifetime”.
While COVID-19 is above all a health crisis, its consequences reach every corners of society. We have all felt its social and economic impacts. Suddenly, many of us are facing extreme financial uncertainty as businesses close and jobs are lost. The virus could put half of the global workforce in limbo. The economic strife will be felt for years to come.
Countries experiencing a multitude of crises are particularly vulnerable. Too often, conflict is coupled with low health standards, poor living conditions and poverty. Managing the global pandemic in fragile societies will be extremely difficult.
New York City advocates for unity and tryst in the experts. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Despite the dire need for global unity, some leaders have decided to politicise the virus. US President Donald Trump has accused WHO of being too “China-centric” in its dealing with the crisis. China just happens to be Trump’s primarily global rival, while USA has become the world’s epicenter for the virus, with over one million confirmed cases and more than 50,000 deaths.
In mid-April, Trump halted his country’s funding for WHO after accusing the agency of mismanaging and covering up the spread of the virus. USA is the largest funder of WHO.
Now is the worst possible time to cut funding for the agency working to stop the deadliest crisis since WWII. Pointing fingers and blaming others for the spread of the virus helps no one that is facing immediate strife. We must learn from our mistakes, but the priority right now is to stop the virus.
There are several simple reasons why we need WHO to fight this pandemic.
Firstly, WHO is crucial for helping countries prepare and respond to the crisis. It has offices in 150 countries. The agency has issued a Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, which identifies the major actions countries need to take and the public health measures that the international community stands ready to provide.
Amongst an epidemic of false and misleading information on COVID-19, WHO produces a single source of accurate and useful information to help save lives. The agency benefits from its global network of health professionals and scientists, allowing it to provide up-to-date guidance, situational reports, press briefings and live updates on its website.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is vital for the safety of those on the front line: health workers. By early April, WHO had shipped more than two million PPE items and dispatched more than one million diagnostic tests to over 120 countries. Millions more are planning to be sources and distributed.
WHO is aiming to train millions of health workers across the globe. In early April, over a million had signed up to its OpenWHO online platform, which allows life-saving information to be transferred from WHO to frontline workers in real time.
Finally, WHO is central to finding the vaccine we all hope for. In the aim of consolidating the testing done in laboratories around the world, WHO bought together 400 of the world’s leading researchers in February to identify research priorities.
The UN is a global body; we need united global action to stop this virus. Now is not the time for divisive and nationalist actions. Now is the time to fight the virus, together.