The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General has finally reversed course and called out China for its lack of transparency and cooperation on sharing critical data about the origins of COVID-19. AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest HIV/AIDS care provider globally, acknowledged the change in WHO’s stance as a necessary but extremely delayed step toward a fully transparent and accountable investigation of how the novel coronavirus pandemic began.
The change comes after more than a year and a half, during which WHO’s Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had been reluctant to voice any criticism related to China’s handling of the outbreak in Wuhan or its lack of cooperation with an international investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
“It is better late than never to recognize that China has been uncooperative with the global effort to understand how the pandemic began, and until this changes, the veracity of any report on the origins of COVID-19 will remain in doubt,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “Until an independent body of scientists has unrestricted access to raw clinical data, blood bank samples, and the ability to independently interview some of the earliest COVID-19 patients and whistleblowers without them fearing retaliation, the world will remain in the dark about how this global health catastrophe began—or how we can prevent the next one.”
Early on in the pandemic, Dr. Tedros praised China for its openness and dismissed the possibility of a lab accident as a cause of the outbreak. In his comments yesterday, he said accidents do happen and called for more data on the Wuhan lab, which has a history of studying bat coronaviruses.
From the beginning of 2021, AHF, leading scientists from around the world, and governments questioned the objectivity of the joint WHO-China investigative team because of conflicts of interest some members had due to their prior work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and China’s heavy-handed management of the team’s work on the ground in Wuhan.
The reasons behind China’s unwillingness to disclose the crucial details about the origins of COVID-19 remain unclear. Since the need to understand how the pandemic began is essential to the global health security of people everywhere, it supersedes the interests of individual states. Therefore, countries and multilateral organizations will have to pressure China to cooperate more fully if the world is to one day learn the truth about the origins of COVID-19.