Daniel Xie of The Canada Files was kind enough to write a summary of Wednesday’s panel on “Countering Hostility to the W.H.O.”
You can read this summary at the following link:
The article is also reproduced, below:
Hamilton Panel Counters American Anti-WHO Hostility
Written by: Daniel Xie
On Wednesday, August 26, the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War hosted an event titled “Countering Hostility to the WHO.” The event focused on the United States’ hostility towards the World Health Organization on the basis that the WHO has supposedly fallen into the grip of ‘rival’ states like China, and can no longer be trusted to deliver “truthful” information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists talked about the importance of global health institutions like the WHO, the political questions raised by recent events, including why Canada’s parliament is following the U.S. lead, and whether multilateral organizations are still viable in this day and age as a means to combat global issues such as a pandemic.
The panelists included:
Dr. Margaret Harris, spokesperson, World Health Organization.
Atif Kubursi, Emeritus Professor of Economics at McMaster University, Canada. He has previously served as the Acting Executive Secretary, and Undersecretary General of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
Alan Whiteside, CIGI Chair in Global Health Policy at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and Wilfrid Laurier University.
Ian Culbert, the executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.
Alan Freeman, co-director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group at the University of Manitoba. He is currently backing Dimitri Lascaris’s campaign to lead Canada’s Green Party, and works on the platform committee.
The panelists stressed the importance of the WHO to maintaining and advancing the cause of global health. According to Ian Culbert, the World Health Organization has overseen significant advances in confronting health problems such as the elimination of tuberculosis and measles in countries like Canada, and almost eradicating polio by facilitating and encouraging the vaccination of children. To Culbert, it wasn’tjust the development of new medical technology and processes, but also measures championed by the WHO that have led to a rise in Canadians’ life expectancy. Culbert advised that developing a strong public health system leads to a healthier economy by using money saved through public health initiatives on other things than covering massive medical costs.
Atif Kubursi stated during his introduction for the event that the WHO continues to play a key role in promoting better global health. He highlighted the the WHO’s triple billion plan, which plans to ensure that one billion people around the world have better protection from health emergencies, have better health coverage, and overall enjoy better health and well-being. Through the successful implementation of this plan, the WHO projects they can save 30 million lives and provide 2-4 per cent% economic growth through improvement of health. The WHO plans to achieve these targets, according to Kubursi, by achieving important goals such as:
Reducing global hunger and global poverty
Improved education and knowledge globally
Increasing gender equality for women
Decent work and economic growth
Building industry, innovation and infrastructure
Reducing socioeconomic inequalities
Taking effective climate action
Creating international partnerships to ferment a global effort to improve health and resilience in communities around the world
The panel also highlighted WHO’s current response to COVID and how it emphasized the importance of and need for transnational organizations such as the WHO. According to Margaret Harris, the Coronavirus outbreak shows that protecting health security requires protecting everyone, and the only way to provide protection for everyone is through global diplomatic and economic cooperation. Harris stated that global cooperation between people testing the virus, often risking their lives without monetary compensation, was crucial in allowing the WHO to better understand the coronavirus within the outbreak’s first week of the. Because of those people’s efforts, the WHO understood that the world was dealing with a virus and not a respiratory disease, and as such was able to declare a global health emergency.
Harris also stressed that economics is tied to good global health and consequently, weaker global health would lead to less economic prosperity. For instance, if children suffer from parasitic diseases they can’t perform well in school, and a society with chronic malnutrition and diseases will have weakened human capital.
As such, Trump’s brazen actions pitting America and the “Free World” against the WHO weakens the ability of the global community to fight the virus. Alan Whiteside elaborated that since the US is responsible for 15 per cent of the WHO’s budget–making it the organization’s largest single donor—its heel-turn puts the WHO more at the mercy of private charities. As of right now the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also responsible for 15 per cent of the WHO’s budget. If the Foundation and other dubious private charities take over more funding, the WHO will have to kowtow to their corporate interests at the expense of the needs of the global community. International public health would become a weapon used to advance the influence of private companies rather than a tool used for the common good.
The US withdrawal from the WHO has also hampered peoples’ ability to deal with the virus via the spread of misinformation regarding how the virus transmits. According to Harris, a common misconception about the Coronavirus spread by the US and other countries currently seeking to cut ties with the WHO is the idea that only old people get the Coronavirus. In some cases this assumption has been mixed with extremely dangerous and sociopathic claims that the elderly should sacrifice themselves so the economy could restart.
Yet, as Harris has stated during questioning period, in the past few months, perhaps earlier, there has been a significant uptick of young people are suffering from COVID. This could be in part because young people are not seeing this as a major threat due to the misinformation from governments that do not understanding how the virus spreads. The is that the Coronavirus outbreak will be an issue the world has to deal with for much longer, making an international response to more necessary than ever.
The New Iron Curtain:
Some of the panelists framed the discussion in the context of the saber-rattling Trump is carrying out against China which was used as justification for cutting ties with the WHO. Ian Culbert stated that, as global citizens, we should all settle our differences rather than succumb to nationalism and xenophobia, particularly as climate change lays the groundwork for more pandemics on the scale of the Coronavirus.
One of Alan Freeman’s main topics of discussion was the need for diplomacy in light of how US-China tensions driving forth Trump’s assault on the WHO. According to Freeman, while China has been attacked by all sides of the political spectrum for how it enforced a lockdown –which simply involved making sure that people didn’t leave infected areas rather than an extensive system of total control–have proven to be successful in preventing the Coronavirus from spilling out of Wuhan and Hubei and into other provinces. By contrast the US, which had attacked China as authoritarian, denied the danger of the virus, and simultaneously deployed xenophobic rhetoric associating the Coronavirus with Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans, now leads the world in deaths.
Freeman took a moment to attack America’s socioeconomic system as a root cause of America’s failings in handling the COVID-19 outbreak. According to Freeman, countries operating on a “social” healthcare system, meaning countries with state-run health care systems such as Cuba and China, are handling COVID-19 very well. By contrast, countries with partial or complete for-profit health systems such as Canada and the US are failing dismally in providing even basic health services for their citizens.
The panelists were asked if the US response to the Coronavirus is tied to a plan to use the outbreak to turn the world against China (i.e. the idea that Chinese spread the virus), particularly in the context of China as a rising power challenging US hegemony. Freeman answered that bipartisan support of a “bash China” policy came in response to a desire to distract Americans from the ongoing social unrest in the wake of the US government’s failure to address the Coronavirus outbreak, combined with the resurgence of Black Lives Matter following the murder of George Floyd. Earlier on, during his speech, Freeman stated that the growing xenophobia against China resembles a new “Iron Curtain” manifesting into the world, this time established by the nations that ironically celebrated the fall of the Soviet Union as a triumph for democracy.
American attacks on the WHO risk it falling into corporate hands
The event and the various panelists express an important counterpoint to the rhetoric spewed out by Trump in his efforts to turn the world against the WHO. Despite the fact that Trump claims the WHO to be a pawn of Chinese interests, he and the American political leadership are looking for a scapegoat to distract the people from the mass coronavirus-related deaths and mounting resistance to police brutality on the homefront. The WTO, with its efforts to foster global health rather than simply kowtow to American interests or anti-Chinese propaganda, seems like the perfect scapegoat for America to focus its vitriol on
If America pulls out of the WHO and pushes it allies to pull out with it, then we could very much see a severe weakening of the ability of the underfunded-WHO to deal with the Coronavirus, which not only means more deaths from COVID, but also the potential for the complete corporatization of the WHO into a tool for private charities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
By remaining quiet as the US seeks to pull out of the WHO, Canada is facilitating the breakdown of multinational organizations and global cooperation that we need now more than ever.