GENEVA • The chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has rejected as false an allegation by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he owed his position to a deal with China.
Mr Pompeo had told a private meeting of British lawmakers on Tuesday that the WHO had become a “political” body, alleging that its decisions were influenced by a deal struck between director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and China that helped him become its head, according to quotes in The Times and The Daily Telegraph.
“When push came to shove, when it really mattered most”, people died “because of the deal that was made”, he claimed.
When asked about Mr Pompeo’s allegations during a virtual press conference, Dr Tedros said on Thursday that they were “untrue and unacceptable and without any foundation for that matter”.
He insisted the “sole focus… of the entire organisation is on saving lives” and the “WHO will not be distracted by these comments and we don’t want the entire international community also to be distracted”.
He reiterated his warning that one of the greatest threats in the current crisis is the “politicisation of the pandemic”.
Dr Tedros has for months faced relentless attacks from US President Donald Trump, who has accused the WHO of botching the global coronavirus response and of being a “puppet of China”.
Earlier this month, Mr Trump made good on his threat to begin withdrawing the United States – traditionally the WHO’s largest donor – from the organisation, even as it works to coordinate the global response to the coronavirus crisis.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who is Covid-19 technical lead at the WHO, and an American citizen, also pushed back on Thursday against the charges lobbed against the United Nations agency.
“I see first-hand every day the work that Dr Tedros does… that our teams do, all over the world,” she said, insisting that the entire organisation was “firmly focused on saving lives”.
Also at Thursday’s press conference, Dr Tedros stressed the importance of individual responsibility in the battle against Covid-19, pointing to a spate of outbreaks linked to nightclubs and social gatherings.
“It may not be your life, but your choices could be the difference between life and death for someone you love, or for a complete stranger,” he said. “We all have a part to play in protecting ourselves and one another.”