Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

China manipulates the WHO, India needs to be cautious

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WHO.

Mains level : Paper 2- How failure of WHO to alert the world in time of Covid-19 pandemic matters for India?

The article elaborates on the role played by China in manipulating WHO to its advantage and to the detriment of the rest of the world. India must take cognisance of the growing Chinese influence at various global platforms and act accordingly.

China’s role in electing Director-General of WHO

  • Tedros was Ethiopia’s Minister of Health (2005—2012) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (2012 to 2016).
  • In 2017, China catapulted him to lead the WHO as its Director General (DG).
  • India, the world’s largest democracy, played second fiddle.
  • We will never know who gamed India inside and abroad, but tough questions must be asked.

Pandemic as a wake-up call for India

  • Public health is a rights-driven developmental track for any country, especially for India.
  • The ministries of foreign, trade, information and broadcasting, home, finance, women and child development, law, infrastructure and industry, among others, should be part of the country’s health equation and decision-making on a daily basis.
  • Should the WHO be sitting in on high-level health ministry discussions given what we now know about its allegiance to all things Chinese?
  • China, an economic and military behemoth, now seeks the same power in public health.
  • India, with its double burden of disease and an uncritical alignment with the WHO, is fertile ground for data and dollars.

Dependence on China for API

  • For now, India, like most countries, is at China’s mercy because of years of short-sightedness and corruption in the health sector.
  • While it is hailed as the pharmacy of the world and has sent drugs as humanitarian assistance, India relies heavily on raw materials from China.
  • Quick thinking and swift action can reverse this.

The above points highlight the implications of Chinese dominance for India. Questions related to China is a recurrent theme in the UPSC papers. Next thing to note here is India’s dependence on China for APIs.

The US’s stand on WHO funding

  • Some are blaming US President Donald Trump for contemplating cutting off funding for the WHO and not Tedros, for taking orders from China about the pandemic.
  • The war is not between an American President and Tedros.
  • It is between Tedros, a global public health head, and his subservience to China.
  • That ship of trust, the cornerstone of public health work that the WHO should have been leading, has long set sail.
  • Protecting Tedros is important as the WHO needs money to help poor countries with weak health systems.

Last year, UPSC asked about UNESCO when the US and Israel withdrew from it. This year, WHO has been in focus for allegedly towing China’s line.

Issue of funding and spending by the WHO

  • War chests are being mobilised to help the WHO help China disburse aid and assistance to dying people and gasping economies.
  • The recent announcement by the World Bank to fast track $1.9 billion for health systems to respond to Covid-19 also includes Ethiopia.
  • For the first time in its history, the WHO has opened its doors to private funding via a Solidarity fund and China is expected to keep an eye on this.
  • To keep track of how the money is spent is a problem.

Conclusion

India must decide if it wants to blindly follow the blind or lead by bringing the WHO back to its original promise. At stake is the country’s economic security of which public health is a key component. India can either be a part of history or pick up the pen even in these times of distress and rewrite it.

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