AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest AIDS organization, condemned the recent jailing of Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan for her reporting on COVID-19 in Wuhan as another example of Chinese authorities’ efforts to impede and obscure global investigations into the origins of the coronavirus and its spread in the early days of the pandemic.
Zhang’s prison sentence of four years has been met with sharp criticism from advocates globally, including the U.S. and the European Union, which have both demanded that Zhang be released.
“Zhang Zhan is a hero for courageously trying to expose a deadly cover-up that crippled the world. It’s not acceptable that China is being allowed to continue the false narrative, and now it is boldly blocking the World Health Organization (WHO) investigators from going to Wuhan to study the outbreak,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “It’s shameful that [WHO Director-General] Tedros was praising China’s response from the beginning, and now his own scientists cannot enter the country. With the COVID-19 death toll approaching two million people, the entire system of global public health is at stake. We are one world – which China is a part of, and it has a responsibility to protect it – not to perpetuate a cover-up which is costing millions of lives.”
After finally consenting to allow a team of WHO experts to travel to Wuhan following lengthy negotiations, China has recently reneged on the agreement while two scientists were already in route, allegedly due to visa clearance issues. A string of actions such as these, intended to thwart the pursuit of facts inadvertently raises questions about why and what China does not want the world to know.
The latest assault on transparency follows a string of other attempts at suppression of public health facts. In January 2020, Chinese ophthalmologist from Wuhan, Dr. Li Wenliang was threatened by law enforcement officials for publicly speaking out about the emergence of a new respiratory illness and was forced to sign a letter retracting his comments. Tragically, Dr. Li passed away in February from what would come to be known as COVID-19. As a tribute to Dr. Li, AHF named its Asia Bureau office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in his honor.
“Whether it’s the United States, the WHO or China – we’ve advocated for complete transparency throughout this health emergency,” added Weinstein. “The WHO should be calling out nations that seek to silence such invaluable voices as Ms. Zhang’s, because lives are lost when information is withheld. Governments should be compelled to provide all relevant COVID-19 data, including accurate statistics on cases and mortality, and there should be zero secrecy on vaccine development and vaccination policies. International cooperation and transparency are paramount during a pandemic.”
AHF has repeatedly called on public health organizations, associations and universities to join together in urging governments and global institutions to work toward creating a new Global Public Health Convention – one that would protect citizens everywhere from this and future health crises by ensuring transparency, sustainability and accountability.