The head of the World Health Organization has faced a barrage of criticism for his handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, chiefly for delaying declaring a global health emergency so as not to displease China.
Speed of reaction: Instead of triggering the international alert that would have made it possible to launch an immediate response to the virus, he sent a reassuring message to member states. According to him, everything was under control, or almost. On January 23rd, he concluded that China had taken "the measures it deemed appropriate to contain the spread of the coronavirus" and recommended that the confinement decreed by Beijing should be "of short duration". He concluded that, although human-to-human transmission occurred in the country, it "appears to be limited to family groups and health care workers caring for infected patients". He also added that, for the time being, "there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China." Score 1/10
Innovation: People call him "Doctor" but Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is not one. At least not in the classical sense of the term since the "Dr." before his name is justified by a doctorate in philosophy, not a degree in medicine. This subtlety, which for a man who has held the highest office in the World Health Organization for two years, is important because it can provoke mistrust. His work within the Ethiopian government is proof of this. "He has built hospitals and medical schools," says Anne Sénéquier, of strategic think tank Iris, "there's no denying that. He has done a lot in terms of volume, but not in terms of quality. Everything was underfunded, and for many, this infrastructural debauchery was more political than clinical in the sense that it did not improve the quality of the health care system." Score 2/10
Healthcare response: The WHO director general was accused of leniency towards China when, at the beginning of January, he blindly accepted Beijing's account of cases of atypical pneumonia that they claimed were not transmissible from man to man, isolated and globally under control. As the month went on he started to backpedal and, on January 30th, the declaration of a global health emergency finally came. Weeks of global responsiveness have been lost and thousands of lives with it. Given the strong ties between China and Ethiopia, Dr Tedros' country of origin, but also China's influence in the WHO's finances and its position as the world's leading supplier of medical equipment, there is a strong inclination to interpret this failure as a deliberate desire not to antagonize a partner of choice. Score 4/10
Honesty and truthfulness: In late 2016 he had to face several Ethiopian doctors' attacks accusing him of having concealed three cholera epidemics that occurred in his country while he was minister of health between 2006 and 2011, which allegedly deprived his country of international aid. He denied the accusation flat out. However, the doubt remains. Just like the doubt regarding the supposed integrity of his campaign when, in early 2017, he ran for Margaret Chan's succession as head of the WHO. Score 4/10
Success in saving lives:Tedros thinks like a politician, not like a doctor. This specificity is now seen by many as a serious flaw that could explain why the head of the WHO preferred to favor diplomatic reasoning by taking Chinese declarations at face value. But public health concern is supposed to take precedence in the face of any suspected pandemic and should have led him to declare a health emergency well before January 30th. Score 5/10