Debt forgiveness that who pays for? Is the WHO picking up the tab?

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Was the advice given to the countries of Africa for stopping the spread of COVID-19 tinged with the residue of the continent's colonial history? The countries were asked to be good citizens of the world and act according to decisions made by officials of remote organizations like WHO. Perhaps the world would have been better served if the countries of Africa (and other continents) acted more in the interests of their own citizenry based on what was actually happening locally.

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It was horrifying watching what was going on in African countries as well as other low income places like India that imposed a strict regime.

But WHO were never fans of lockdowns except as a last resort. Low income countries that implemented harsh lockdowns were not following WHO advice, they were just copying China.

WHO's idea of 'all-of-government, all-of-society' response, was to 'find, test and isolate every case, trace and quarantine every contact.' Mike Ryan in particular, was very, very clear in every press conference that lockdown was for when you f*d up and lost control and didn't know where the virus was so instead of keeping infected people away from others you had to keep everyone away from everyone. He said a LOT about the social and economic harms of lockdown and that it should be avoided if at all possible. He specifically warned against lockdowns in low income countries where people work for day wages.

It's worth looking up those early press conferences on YT.

This approach can be seen even in the doc you link from mid-february 2020. China was already in extreme lockdown and WHO wasn't about to piss them off by criticising their approach because in Feb 2020 China had 'the greatest knowledge on COVID-19' and WHO can only ever ask nicely, they have no other power, and because China will do whatever it wants, all the time, anyway. Nevertheless WHO recommended that China 'Carefully monitor the phased lifting of the current restrictions'.

For other countries with identified cases they recommended: 'Prioritize active, exhaustive case finding and immediate testing and isolation, painstaking contact tracing and rigorous quarantine of close contacts.'

WHO's biggest f* up was not recognising early enough that covid was airborne. Their idea that covid could be chased down and contained through contact tracing and isolation would maybe work for an infection that was only spread by droplets and surfaces, as they originally (and for far too long) assumed. It worked for SARS 1 because that infection, while sometimes airborne, settled much lower in the lungs so people already felt quite poorly before they started coughing up virus. It worked for smallpox, the eradication of which is WHO's greatest trumpeted success, it's still the major intervention for ebola and for monkeypox in the endemic countries that still don't have access to the vaccine.

For an airborne virus that infects the upper respiratory tract and doesn't make people feel unwell until ~3 days after they become infectious? No chance!

I have lots of criticisms of WHO but this one, that they advocated for lockdowns, I do believe is unfair.

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Sep 25, 2023·edited Sep 25, 2023

See for e.g. their press conference on 3 April 2020 which had a strong emphasis on 'protecting lives, protecting livelihoods' and featured Kristalina Georgieva, MD of IMF, who called for a moratorium on world debt during the crisis.


(ETA: I just rewatched the whole of this, I think it will be an important part of the overall record of covid. Social distancing was the new thing but the camera team had not yet adjusted. They took a nuanced position on masks in response to a question from China, who wanted everyone in masks, right from the start.)

I agree, debt cancellation is the way to go now, just as it was before covid. This world debt model has always been a giant con for low income countries..

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I think a lot of people overestimate the power that WHO have. Their only weapon is diplomacy, they can only ever just ask nicely for access or data. They did their best not to p*ss off Xi Jinping but also to not p*ss off Trump or Bolsonaro or any other batsh*t world leader. Frankly, the fact we didn't end up in WW3 is a bit surprising.

I think a lot of people underestimate how much worse the pandemic would have been if there was not an international body to which individual governments felt obliged to report.

Lockdowns and masks were Chinese solutions to covid. WHO did not endorse either of these, especially in the early months. I think a lot of people are angry with China or their own government's adoption of Chinese methods and are wrongly attributing this to WHO.

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Crisp, sound advice.

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