Here’s another insightful blog from Dr. Marissa Carter. Read her previous (very popular) blogs on the origins of COVID-19 and other topics by clicking here.
The WHO said WHAT about COVID-19?
The World Health Organization (WHO) is the public health arm of the United Nations, and has worked on a number of communicable and non-communicable diseases since its inception in 1948. Although subject to political infighting, it has nevertheless accomplished some worthy goals, including the eradication of smallpox, and the near-eradication of polio. Its current budget is $4.2 billion, which is a paltry sum considering the amount of money spent on healthcare. However, its track record in regard to the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is problematic at best and inexcusable at worst.
The WHO has been hugely criticized for its China-centric responses and the fact that “it has caved in to nationalist bullies, praised draconian quarantine measures and failed to protect the liberal international order of which it is a linchpin.” It wasn’t until March 11, that the WHO declared the outbreaks of the SARS-CoV-2 virus a pandemic. That it waited that long—6 months since the outbreak started to occur in Wuhan—when it was clear the virus was rapidly spreading around the world is unforgivable. It was one of the reasons why many countries lost valuable time in managing their own epidemics, including the UK. It also contrasts massively with the aggressive response the WHO Director General, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, made regarding the 2002/2003 SARS outbreak in China in which she was not afraid to take on China and call it out for secrecy and refusal to cooperate. And that’s not the only problem.
The WHO said healthy people should not wear masks?
The WHO has until recently maintained that healthy people should not wear face masks; only individuals showing COVID-19 symptoms or caregivers coming into contact with people who have the virus should wear them. Their detailed recommendations were based on analysis of the evidence available. That recommendation, plus the flip-flopping of our own CDC, had huge consequences, and is probably one the major reasons why most people in the USA are no longer wearing masks. However, on June 5th, the WHO’s DG, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced that the organization now recommends people who live in areas experiencing “widespread transmission” of COVID-19 wear a fabric mask whenever social distancing of at least one meter (about three feet) is not possible. Let’s see what to make of this flip-flopping by taking a quick look at the evidence:
- Prior to the pandemic, there were at least two systematic reviews available on the wearing of masks in regard to influenza-like illnesses. Both suggested that masks were protective for the general public, but the statistics varied (one not-significant, the other significant). Fair enough; it would have been reasonable to say that there may be some benefit to mask wearing by the public, but it’s not conclusive.
- A slew of systematic reviews followed after the pandemic was declared. The first one, published on April 30th said: “The study suggests that community mask use by well people could be beneficial, particularly for COVID-19, where transmission may be pre-symptomatic.”
- A more recent systematic review published on May 27th found: “Use of masks by healthcare workers (HCWs) and non-healthcare workers (Non-HCWs) can reduce the risk of respiratory virus infection by 80% (OR = 0.20, 95% CI = 0.11-0.37) and 47% (OR = 0.53, 95% CI = 0.36-0.79).”
- Finally, the most comprehensive systematic review to date, which was actually funded by the WHO, was published recently in The Lancet, noted: “Face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection (n=2647; aOR 0·15, 95% CI 0·07 to 0·34, RD -14·3%, -15·9 to -10·7; low certainty)…” So, my question to the WHO is: What took you so long?
Oh, one last thing. I understand that getting medical masks can be problematic, but cloth masks compared to medical masks have far less of a protective effect. So, while the WHO went to some to lengths in its most recent proclamation to describe how to make your own fabric masks, I wonder whether this will make any difference.
The WHO said Asymptomatic Transmission of COVID-19 is Very Rare?
By April a number of epidemiologists and clinicians were actively discussing COVID-19 transmission in which infected persons with little or no symptoms were transmitting the virus. More than anything, this is a viral characteristic that makes the virus more dangerous than flu. Over the last few months, dozens of studies have been published on the subject and it is now thought that up to 50% of all COVID-19 cases may be asymptomatic. However, on June 8th, Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) technical lead for COVID-19, said at a press briefing on June 8 that asymptomatic transmission appears to be rare or very rare, depending on whose reporting you read. This was a not a slip of the tongue.
Alright, here is a standard definition of very rare taken out of a WHO vaccine manual based on events: less than 0.01%. Rare means around 0.1%.
Needless to say, the flak the WHO received on this point was huge. Even Dr. Fauci commented that the WHO’s initial comment “was not correct.” He said 25% to 45% of people who are infected with COVID-19 likely don’t have symptoms, adding, “We know from epidemiological studies they can transmit to someone who is uninfected even when they’re without symptoms. So, to make a statement to say that’s a rare event was not correct.”
Some Final Thoughts – Where is the WHO?
I have admired some of the work the WHO has accomplished. It is truly tough to get something done on a multinational basis when you have people pulling in different directions. I experienced some of this myself when leading a WHO-sponsored project on epidemiological blindness in South America. Nevertheless, the way our only global health organization has handled the COVID-19 pandemic makes me wonder where the WHO went. It appears to me that that the WHO has lost the plot when it comes to COVID-19. I know that I am not alone. And that is truly a great loss to humanity.