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Opinion Pieces

WHO Must Actually Demonstrate Independence from China

With the stroke of a pen, President Joe Biden readmitted the United States, as a paying member, to the World Health Organization (WHO). President Biden’s own National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated, “Re-engaging with the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards… We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated.” 

Before putting U.S. taxpayers on the hook for the WHO’s budget, we should have laid out the standards that must be followed and demanded that reforms be made before agreeing to rejoin the WHO. After all, it’s been over a year, and we still have more questions than answers about the WHO’s transparency, independence, and ability to address global pandemics.

In the early days of 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak was primarily contained within China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took multiple deceitful actions to hide the morbidity and the rate of transmission of the virus. Instead of sounding the alarm, the CCP silenced journalists and doctors, destroyed early samples of the novel coronavirus, blocked foreign investigations – including by U.S. health officials, and launched a sophisticated misinformation campaign to deflect responsibility as the virus spread across the globe.  

Sadly, the WHO amplified these messages and partnered with the CCP to cover up the origins of the virus. On January 14, 2020 after failing to independently verify China’s reporting, the official WHO Twitter account repeated China’s false talking points stating that “preliminary investigations conducted by the CCP authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transition.” The very next day, America’s first documented coronavirus patient was identified in Washington, a man who recently traveled to the Wuhan region. Two weeks later, the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – a candidate supported by China to run the WHO – traveled to China to meet with President Xi and lavished the Communist leader with praise for his transparency and handling of the outbreak.

After returning from Beijing, Director Tedros even said that China was “setting a new standard for outbreak response” and while feigning ignorance to China’s own intra-country travel ban, lambasted countries issuing travel bans stating they could “have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit.” 

As we’ve begun to pass the one-year anniversary for many of the first milestones of the COVID-19 outbreak, the CCP continues their smoke and mirrors, and the WHO continues to throw their hands up in the air. In addition to perpetuating false claims about the virus’ origin, CCP authorities also refused information requests from WHO investigators who had recently completed a mission to China between January and February of this year. The WHO investigators were seeking raw data surrounding nearly 200 COVID-19 cases believed to have existed during the earliest phases of the Wuhan outbreak. Conclusions extolled by China, without the WHO seeing the raw – and hopefully real data – are untrustworthy at best. An investigation based off limited and tampered information is not a real investigation.

This is not how science should be shared. It hinders the development of multivalent vaccines and further prolongs the scourge of this plague.

Unfortunately, the January-February 2021 findings of the WHO investigators, as well as the omissions should astonish no one. The fact that the WHO continues to run interference for the CCP should not either. Their probe demonstrates the continued unwillingness of the CCP to share information with the world about the origins of the outbreak. It also shows the WHO raced to conclusions and conducted a public spectacle to share their findings, which included not only ruling out the possibility of a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one potential source of the virus, but also gave veracity to the lie that the virus originated in another country and entered China through contaminated frozen food.

The WHO’s willful blindness when it comes to the CCP, leads many to remain skeptical of them and the information they provide to the world. And it’s another reason we are concerned with the Biden Administration’s decision to rejoin the WHO without resolving its major problems and fund it using American taxpayer dollars. 

Without independent investigations, complete access to decade’s old data from scientists like Dr. Shi Zhengli who studied this virus found in bat droppings, and a complete understanding of all the facts on the ground, we will never fully understand this virus or how it started. As variants emerge and we enter the next chapter of this battle, the world needs answers. Understanding the virus’ start will help public health leaders combat new strains and rapidly develop effective vaccines and therapeutics. More importantly, it can help us in preventing future pandemics through preventive measures.

We are doctors who happen to serve as U.S. Senators and Congressmen, not U.S Senators and Congressmen who happen to be doctors. We know that when it comes to legitimate science, we must never tolerate incomplete evidence gathering and political motivations to inform clinical decisions.

The only way forward for an international public health organization to successfully function is if it can actually demonstrate independence from political influence and work with all partner nations to uncover and share the information experts need. Humankind needs a functioning science-driven organization – not a politically driven one. And, we need the WHO to get back to their original objective stated in the organization’s constitution: attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. The clock is ticking. Time will tell.

Sen. Roger Marshall, M.D., represents Kansas in the U.S. Senate. He previously represented the 1st Congressional District for Kansas in the U.S. House. Prior to serving in Congress, Dr. Marshall was a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist in Great Bend, Kansas. He received his M.D. at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1987.

Sen. John Barrasso, M.D., a Republican from Wyoming, is an orthopedic surgeon and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

Rep. Andy Harris, M.D., specializes in anesthesiology and is the former head of obstetric anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins University. He is a veteran of the Naval Reserve and still practices part-time on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he represents the state’s 1st Congressional District.

Rep. John Joyce, M.D. represents the 13th District of Pennsylvania, where he practiced medicine for more than 25 years. He is board-certified in internal medicine and dermatology.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, D.P.M., represents Ohio’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he serves as a co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus. He also serves as a Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and is an Iraq War veteran, where he served as a combat surgeon.

This piece originally ran in the Washington Times.