AHF: The World Health Assembly Must Demand Transparency from China on COVID-19

In Global Advocacy, Global Featured by Fiona Ip

On the eve of the World Health Assembly, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest provider of HIV/AIDS care globally, calls on nations to put transparency front and center as ministers of health prepare to debate the path forward on COVID-19 and the future of global health security.

Following up on previous repeated calls by AHF for transparency, accountability, and cooperation on the pandemic response, the latest appeal was prompted by a story published in The Wall Street Journal today, which says three scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) became ill and were hospitalized in November 2019, according to a US intelligence report.

This suggests that if the scientists came down with COVID-19 months before first cases were officially acknowledge by the Chinese authorities, the hypothesis that the virus could have escaped from WIV is not as farfetched as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) investigative team first purported it to be.

“Political obfuscation is standing in the way of the world knowing how COVID-19 began and grew into an existential threat to humanity that has claimed nearly 3.5 million lives. If the intelligence report is correct, then the Chinese authorities know exactly what the cause of the illness was among the three Wuhan lab scientists, but they are concealing it,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “Countries must exert pressure at the World Health Assembly to demand transparency about the origins of COVID-19, specifically in this instance, and for pandemics in general.”

The Wall Street Journal story comes on the heels of an open letter published in Science Magazine on May 14 titled “Investigate the origins of COVID-19”, which was co-authored by 18 leading scientists from premier research universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cal Tech, and UC Berkley, among others. The article argued that investigation into zoonotic and lab accident hypotheses about the origins of COVID-19 should continue. The authors say the WHO investigative team sent to Wuhan earlier this year did not lend sufficient time to the lab accident hypothesis even though evidence to favor one hypothesis over the other remains insufficient.

AHF first criticized the WHO for failing to maintain impartiality on the Wuhan investigation in February 2021 with an article titled “COVID WHO Investigation: A Smoke Screen for China.” Subsequent articles raised questions about conflicts of interest among some members of the investigative team who had been affiliated with the WIV.

With the WHA starting this Monday, if the ministers of health of more than 190 member states believe that science and public health should prevail, then they should mandate another fully independent scientific investigation into the origins of COVID-19. They should also call on China to be fully transparent by providing access to all medical records and complete information related to the start of the first probable cases, irrespective of whether they were properly diagnosed at the time or not.

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