Thursday, April 16, 2020


I really cannot judge how well or poorly the World Health Organization (WHO) responded initially to COVID-19. It may  indeed be the case that the organization took too many Chinese pronouncements at face value. And there may well be very good reasons to fault China's initial response for being at best too slow, at worse too politicized. On the other hand, the same could be said of the Trump Administration's initial response (and subsequent responses). There may be merit down the road in challenging WHO to rethink its relationship with China. Likewise a more coherent and consistent approach to China on the part of  the Trump Administration might be welcome. 

At the present moment, however, all this is really something of a distraction. The preeminent preoccupation right now needs to be on caring for the sick and mitigating the spread of the virus in the wider population, then improving our pathetic capacity to test for the virus so that more people can plan to resume some normal activities in the near future. Given the Administration's colossal failures in these area, it may be no surprise that it seeks to distract us with questions about WHO and China, but they remain distractions.

As is, by the way, the silliness in certain circles that insist on calling COVID-19 the "Wuhan Virus" or the "China Virus."  There is, of course, a tradition of some diseases being named for where they were first discovered. Think of Ebola or Marburg or Lyme Disease. As scientific nomenclature, I suppose there is nothing really wrong about that. However, as with so many other things, the Trump Administration and its allies have politicized this - creating at best another distraction, at worst further fanning the flames of xenophobia and racism that seem to appeal to some of Trump's political base. So what was once merely a commonplace approach to naming new diseases is now yet another distracting source of controversy. Obviously that particular convention for naming new diseases has now outlived its usefulness and needs to be discarded for this and all yet-to-be encountered future diseases.

(Photo: World health Organization headquarters, Geneva)

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