Monday, 4 October 2021

How WHO Failed

I see that WHO is in contention for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is absurd. WHO got almost everything wrong early in the COVID19 pandemic and probably made the pandemic much worse. Here's a list:

  • As late as April 2020 WHO was advising countries against closing borders. (NZ eliminated COVID19 after closing borders in March against WHO advice. Later, WHO had the gall to pretend NZ eliminated COVID19 by following WHO advice.)
  • As late as June 2020 WHO was advising that asymptomatic spread of COVID19 was "rare". We now know that asymptomatic spread of COVID19 was and is a major factor in transmission.
  • Until June 2020 WHO was advising people to not wear masks unless they were sick with COVID19 or caring for someone sick, because it would be either ineffective or harmful. We now know that general mask-wearing is helpful at preventing transmission.
  • Until May 2021 WHO was advising that COVID19 was spread mainly by droplets. Now we know that it is spread mainly via aerosols.
  • As late as July 2020 WHO was advising that fomite transmission was a "likely mode of transmission" for COVID19. Fomite transmission has never been demonstrated as far as I know.
  • WHO delayed declaring COVID19 a pandemic until 11 March 2020, long after it was obviously a pandemic.

It would be unreasonable to expect WHO to get everything right given the unknowns of a new pandemic. However, we should expect WHO to get more right than wrong, and the above list shows they were actually worse than useless. These failures demand serious investigation and reform, not a Nobel Prize. If that investigation and reform doesn't happen, in the next pandemic, countries will be best off ignoring WHO advice.

Sadly, I see little sign of such criticism and reform happening. Instead, as this Nobel talk illustrates, mainstream opinion backs WHO's COVID19 response and is almost completely silent on WHO's appalling COVID19 track record. I'm not sure why this has happened, but I suspect it's another casualty of American partisan politics: "Trump attacked WHO, therefore reasonable people have to uncritically support WHO". It's maddening.

(Note for those who don't know me: I am an enthusiastic supporter of mainstream science and institutions, in general. WHO bungled this one.)