The WHO fails again – on smoking
Whatever reputation for competence and honesty the World Health Organisation might once have had has been destroyed by its response to Covid. It ignored Taiwan’s warnings, claimed China had averted or delayed hundreds of thousands of cases and protected the global community, said China was not hiding anything, and recommended China’s epidemic control policy to the world, saying there was no “clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the coronavirus.
Even after the doctors and journalists trying to expose the outbreak’s extent were brutally suppressed, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, lauded the Chinese government for its “transparency” and for making us “feel safer.” And only after enormous international pressure did it take seriously the likelihood that the virus originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.
You might think that this experience would be sufficient to convince the organisation to become more open and transparent itself. But when it comes to tobacco control, it is a secret society.
In November the WHO will hold its ninth ‘Congress of the Parties’ — COP9 — and a Meeting of the Parties — MOP2 — to the Illicit Trade Protocol in The Hague, Netherlands, under the auspices of its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The conferences will consider, respectively, how to reduce rates of smoking, and how to address the large and growing illegal tobacco market.
Over the past several COPs, FCTC policymaking has become increasingly non-transparent. Complaints of exclusion from deliberations on the grounds that the process lacks transparency due to the lack of input from stakeholders are routinely ignored. During COP7, a group of tobacco farmers showed up outside of the meetings in Delhi to peaceably protest their continuing exclusion from deliberations. This prompted the Convention Secretariat to call upon security to round them up and bus them miles away, to a location where COP delegates could neither see nor hear them.