Saying that “multilateralism, the United Nations, the World Health Organization are essential,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the U.S. is shelling out millions of dollars to the WHO, which has spent the past year under a cloud over its actions to help China cover up the extent of the coronavirus epidemic as it unfolded.
“Today, I’m pleased to confirm that by the end of the month the United States intends to pay over $200 million in assessed and current obligations to the WHO,” Blinken said during a U.N. Security Council meeting, according to a transcript of his remarks on the State Department website.
“This is a key step forward in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member,” he said. “And it reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic, even as we work to reform it for the future.”
The agency’s actions were castigated last April by the liberal Atlantic, which cited what it called a “notorious example” of the WHO’s conduct in a Jan. 14 tweet that essentially replicated a Chinese government statement denying the possibility.
“This, we now know, was catastrophically untrue,” Atlantic contributor Kathy Gilsinan noted.
“We were deceived,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told The Washington Post last year.
“Myself and other public health experts, based on what the World Health Organization and China were saying, reassured the public that this was not serious, that we could bring this under control,” he said, adding that the WHO and China gave the world “a false sense of assurance.”
On Wednesday, Blinken promised the U.S. will help vaccinate residents of other countries against the virus, saying, “The United States will work with our partners across the globe to expand manufacturing and distribution capacity and to increase access, including to marginalized populations.”
Blinken said some populations should be more of a focus than others.
“As we move forward, it’s critical to look at who the pandemic has hurt the most. The secretary-general has called for us to put women and girls at the center of the COVID-19 response and recovery. The data we’ve all seen has shown a profound backsliding in gender equality, including spikes in gender-based violence as families are confined to close quarters during the pandemic,” the secretary of state said.
“We must support the secretary-general’s various COVID-19 policy briefs on gender, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable and marginalized groups. These groups must be included as decision-makers at all levels, following the principle of ‘nothing about us without us,'” he said.
However, Blinken tiptoed around a hot-button issue as he called for transparency about the origins of the virus.
“The ongoing expert investigation about the origins of this pandemic — and the report that will be issued — must be independent, with findings based on science and facts and free from interference,” he said. “To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, all countries must make available all data from the earliest days of any outbreak.
“And going forward, all countries should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies, so the world learns as much as possible as soon as possible. Transparency, information sharing, access for international experts — these must be the hallmarks of our common approach to what is truly a global challenge.”
The investigation to which Blinken referred was conducted by the WHO. Although billed as independent, concerns have been raised that the investigation was spoon-fed data by China, according to an NBC News report Tuesday.
“It’s kind of disappointing that it’s come to controversy already — the report is not even out,” said Peter Daszak, a member of the mission who is president of the EcoHealth Alliance.
The Biden administration issued some stern words.
“We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement, according to Fox News.
“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” said Sullivan, who called upon China to give out raw, unfiltered data.
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