Failure to cooperate with the World Health Organization (WHO) during a pandemic should prompt sanctions against a country, according to some officials and experts, who point to the Chinese regime’s failure to share early information and fully cooperate with investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still others, however, have sounded the alarm about giving the WHO too much power at the expense of national sovereignty.
Some public officials, prominently German Health Minister Jens Spahn, proposed that countries that fail to follow up on their commitments to the WHO should face sanctions. WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “maybe exploring the sanctions may be important.”
The sanctions regime would be backed by a new “pandemic treaty” pushed by Germany and backed by about two dozen other countries.
The idea was also raised by a group of scholars from the London School of Economics, Kings College London, and the German Alliance on Climate Change and Health.
“High-income settings may not be motivated by financial resources in the same way as their low-income counterparts,” they wrote in a recent essay that discussed the treaty idea. “An adaptable incentive regime is therefore needed, with sanctions such as public reprimands, economic sanctions, or denial of benefits.”
The United States has so far opposed such an agreement and instead proposes strengthening WHO regulations. Those, however, lack the teeth of sanctions.
Spahn’s reference to sanctions appeared to be a jab at the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has withheld from the WHO information about the spread of COVID-19 and obstructed or blocked investigations into its origins. Evidence uncovered so far suggests the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China.
However, tying sanctions to cooperation with the WHO could have toxic consequences, depending on how broad the U.N. agency’s enforcement powers become, says Nick Corbishley, author of “Scanned: Why Vaccine Passports and Digital IDs Will Mean the End of Privacy and Personal Freedom.”
“When there is a health crisis or a pandemic like we’ve just been through, the World Health Organization will be able to dictate terms,” he said during a recent interview on Epoch TV’s “Crossroads.”
“They will be able to tell countries more or less how to respond.”
That doesn’t sit well with him, since it could diminish control over health policy at the national level.
“It’s bad enough when we have our government or our public health authorities taking actions that may be going against the spirit of democracy or they take away freedoms,” he said.
“When that happens at a national level, it’s not good, but there’s a possibility of perhaps taking action [against such policies] at the national level. When it’s taking place at the global level, then it’s going to be much more difficult for local populations to regain power and control.”
There’s also the question of who holds sway over the organization.
While the WHO depends on its hundreds of members for funding, most of the money comes from just a handful of nations or entities. Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are among the largest sponsors.
The CCP has also been a major influence on the organization. Not only has it increased its payment to the WHO in recent years, but it also enjoys a special relationship with its leader.
Tedros is a former Politburo member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a Maoist group that waged a guerrilla war in the 1980s against the Soviet-backed Mengistu regime in Ethiopia and then ruled the country until 2019.
Tedros is a former health minister who later became the foreign minister of the African nation. He maintained strong ties with the CCP, embracing projects such as the “Belt and Road” initiative, which serves to expand the CCP’s geostrategic influence.
With the help of the CCP’s lobbying efforts, he scored the WHO’s top post in 2017.
“Chinese diplomats had campaigned hard for the Ethiopian, using Beijing’s financial clout and opaque aid budget to build support for him among developing countries,” Sunday Times columnist Rebecca Myers wrote at the time.
The World Health Assembly (WHA), a supervisory organ of the WHO, has so far set up a working group “on assessing the benefits of developing” such a WHO treaty.
The group is set to present its final report in 2024. Reporting on its progress in November, the group outlined the topics the treaty should address, including sharing of information and resources and “strengthening of compliance” with the international health regulations last amended by the WHA in 2005 (pdf).
“Many Member States expressed a desire to prioritize the strengthening of compliance and recognized the importance of providing incentives for implementation and assistance to respond, but there remains divergence on how best to do that as part of strengthening the IHR (2005) or as part of a new instrument,” it said.
One of the topics is called “Misinformation and disinformation.”
“Member States recognize the need for national and global coordinated actions to address the misinformation, disinformation, and stigmatization that undermine public health,” the report said.
Corbishley said he found the reference “deeply concerning but hardly surprising, given recent trends and developments.”
The U.S. government, for example, has worked with social media companies to have content deemed to be “misinformation” removed or suppressed. A major portion of such content later turned out to be well-founded, such as the hypothesis that the virus escaped from a Chinese lab as well as the potential benefits of alternative COVID-19 therapies.
“One of the key lessons many global health policymakers seem to have drawn from this pandemic is the need to control even more tightly the official public health narrative, and that means stamping out mis- or disinformation,” Corbishley told The Epoch Times via email.
“That said, there is no way of divining whether or not the WHO would actually use its larger, sharper teeth to that end, assuming the treaty is signed, though the organization’s leaders do seem to have a fixation with misinfo and disinfo.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.