Security council had spent weeks seeking resolution but Trump administration opposed mention of organization
French diplomats had thought they had addressed the US’s concerns by making the reference to the WHO indirect
The US has blocked a vote on a UN security council resolution calling for a global ceasefire during the Covid-19 pandemic, because the Trump administration objected to an indirect reference to the World Health Organization.
The security council has been wrangling for more than six weeks over the resolution, which was intended to demonstrate global support for the call for a ceasefire by the UN secretary general, António Guterres. The main source for the delay was the US refusal to endorse a resolution that urged support for the WHO’s operations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Donald Trump has blamed the WHO for the pandemic, claiming (without any supporting evidence) that it withheld information in the early days of the outbreak.
China insisted that the resolution should include mention and endorsement of the WHO.
On Thursday night, French diplomats thought they had engineered a compromise in which the resolution would mention UN “specialized health agencies” (an indirect, if clear, reference to the WHO).
The Russian mission signaled that it wanted a clause calling for the lifting of sanctions that affected the delivery of medical supplies, a reference to US punitive measures imposed on Iran and Venezuela. However, most security council diplomats believed Moscow would withdraw the objection or abstain in a vote rather than risk isolation as the sole veto on the ceasefire resolution.
On Thursday night, it appeared that the compromise resolution had the support of the US mission, but on Friday morning, that position switched and the US “broke silence” on the resolution, raising objection to the phrase “specialist health agencies”, and blocking movement towards a vote.
“We understood that there was an agreement on this thing but it seems that they changed their mind,” a western security council diplomat said.
“Obviously they have changed their mind within the American system so that wording is still not good enough for them,” another diplomat close to the discussions said. “It might be that they just need a bit more time to settle it amongst themselves, or it might be that someone very high up has made a decision they don’t want it, and therefore it won’t happen. It is unclear at this moment, which one it is.”
A spokesperson for the US mission at the UN suggested that if the resolution was to mention the work of the WHO, it would have to include critical language about how China and the WHO have handled the pandemic.
“In our view, the council should either proceed with a resolution limited to support for a ceasefire, or a broadened resolution that fully addresses the need for renewed member state commitment to transparency and accountability in the context of Covid-19. Transparency and reliable data are essential to helping the world combat this ongoing pandemic, and the next one,” the spokesperson said.
While the force of the resolution would be primarily symbolic, it would have been symbolism at a crucial moment. Since Guterres made his call for a global ceasefire, armed factions in more than a dozen countries had observed a temporary truce. The absence of a resolution from the world’s most powerful nations, however, undermines the secretary general’s clout in his efforts to maintain those fragile ceasefires.
Talks will continue next week at the security council to explore whether some other way around the impasse can be found.
OP: Please note that the following was written by me: I am including it because I haven't seen this reported anywhere, but it seems to me to detail the fact that aside from wanting to find someone to blame for their own piss poor handling of the coronavirus crisis, there are likely to be other 'special interests' underlying the Trump administration's decision to defund the WHO. One of these 'special interests' is presented below. (References are at the end.)
On the dangers of the U.S. defunding WHO
This post concerns the Trump administration's decision to cut U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The following is a topic which has been under reported to date and yet relates to this decision.
The following is an excerpt of a transcript on the PBS Newshour's website (from April 15th, 2020, discussion on air between anchor Judy Woodruff and correspondent Nick Schiffrin, regarding the decision of the Trump administration re:the WHO (1)):
And so what kind of reforms are they looking for?
Judy, the short-term goal is very clear. They want Taiwan to be an observer at the WHO again. It was in the past. China has resisted giving it back that status.
And U.S. officials tell me they believe the director general of the WHO can simply do that and decide that himself.
A second goal is to somehow force countries to share information about outbreaks. Now, right now, they are required to share information to the WHO. The U.S. officials say there's simply no enforcement mechanism in order to do that.
And the third goal is to kind of reorient the priorities of the World Health Organization. WHO does a lot of things. It worries about polio. It does road safety. It worries about local health emergencies.
But the U.S. wants it to focus almost exclusively on infectious disease."
The WHO's own website states that, "Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally."(2) In other words, non infectious diseases represent the largest proportion of disease worldwide and the WHO's work in this regard is very important.
We also know that vulnerability to an infectious disease such as Covid-19 is increased by underlying health conditions (including the aforementioned non communicable diseases).(3) Again, these are conditions ameliorated by access to health care, which organizations such as the WHO assist in providing.(2, 4-7, 17)
Point #1: For all the reasons highlighted above, the U.S. government's stated desire to force the WHO to ignore the importance of non communicable diseases to public health (worldwide) is alarming. It is clear that the WHO provides (directly and indirectly, see 4) much needed health care resources in countries where these are badly needed.(2, 4-7)
Additionally, an important contribution made by the WHO in recent years, has been the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This is the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization (2003). As (again) stated on the WHO website, "The WHO FCTC represents a paradigm shift in developing a regulatory strategy to address addictive substances; in contrast to previous drug control treaties, the WHO FCTC asserts the importance of demand reduction strategies as well as supply issues." (8)
The FCTC may have been effective in several areas: "The FCTC has increased the implementation of measures across several policy domains, and these implementations have resulted in measurable impacts on tobacco consumption, prevalence and other outcomes."(9) It should be noted that there appears to be a debate as to whether the FCTC has achieved its ultimate objective of reducing worldwide cigarette consumption.(10) However, several areas cited in the first report (i.e., smoke-free laws, health warnings and education campaigns, youth access laws, and reporting/information exchange (9)) suggest that it may eventually be effective (i.e., since the 'smokers of tomorrow' are the adolescents and young adults of today and reaching that demographic around the world is what may eventually result in worldwide success -youth smoking is of paramount importance to public health since the vast majority of smokers report initiating cigarette smoking in adolescence or young adulthood (11, 12)
Many countries need help combatting the tobacco industry lobby: approximately 80% of the more than 1 billion smokers in the world today live in low- and middle-income countries where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest. (13) Finally, given recent declines in cigarette smoking in western countries, western tobacco companies have shown considerable interest in markets in other countries.(14)
Point #2: Given the importance of cigarette smoking as one of the leading causes of preventable death (and non communicable disease) worldwide(13), I think an important point to make here is that the tobacco industry's ties to the Trump administration(15) make their actions with regards to attempting to 'reorient' the WHO's efforts in relation to non communicable diseases highly suspect. (Another interesting move made by the Trump administration in this regard was the proposal to create a new federal agency to regulate tobacco products while removing that authority from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which concerned anti-tobacco advocates in the U.S.(16))
1. What’s behind Trump’s criticism of the World Health Organization. Read the full transcript.
2. Noncommunicable diseases.
3. Information for Healthcare Professionals: COVID-19 and Underlying Conditions.
4. Health and development. Aid for health.
5. Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals.
6. Improving access to care in developing countries: Report from a meeting: Advocating for access to care and sharing experiences 29 November – 1 December 2001, Paris, France. Convened at the invitation of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs World Health Organization lessons from practice, research, resources and partnerships.
7. 10 facts on polio eradication.
8. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
9. Chung-Hall J et al. Impact of the WHO FCTC over the first decade: a global evidence review prepared for the Impact Assessment Expert Group. British Medical Journal 2019; 28:s119-s128.
10. Hoffman SJ et al. Impact of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on global cigarette consumption: quasi-experimental evaluations using interrupted time series analysis and in-sample forecast event modelling. British Medical Journal 2019; 365:l2287.
11. Schulenberg JE, Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, Miech RA, Patrick ME. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2017: Volume II, College students and adults ages 19–55. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. (Available here.)
12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2012.
13. Tobacco. Fact sheet. World Health Organization.
14. Big tobacco targets the young in poor countries – with deadly consequences. As smoking rates decline in the west, the tobacco industry is pouring marketing resources into developing countries, in particular trying to draw in young people.
15. Tobacco companies tighten hold on Washington under Trump. Top White House figures – including the vice-president and health secretary – have deep ties to an industry whose donations began pouring in on day one.
16. Trump administration proposes removing FDA's authority over tobacco regulation.
17. Integrated chronic disease prevention and control.
OP: One issue is that there is legitimate criticism that can be levelled at the WHO, but the Trump administration don't really care about any of that.
One interesting source with regards to the functioning of the WHO is here. (For those who have never heard of this show, 'Listening Post' is a weekly show on the Al Jazeera network which examines the world's media, their biases and the stories they cover. If you haven't heard of it, it is really worth watching.) The story linked to basically considers the WHO as a source of information, including its limitations.
Finally, another CRUCIAL role of the WHO in chronic and non communicable disease prevention takes involves IARC. This is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (full disclosure: a former employer of mine works for IARC, so I have in a way worked for them indirectly, I suppose).