A couple of days after US President D o n a l d Tr u m p had on Thursday said that the World Health Organization (WHO) should be “ashamed” of itself for behaving like a public relations agency for China, the world’s top health body praised China for handling the coronavirus pandemic. It even advised other countries to learn from the Chinese authorities on how they could bring Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, back to normal. The Trump administration has launched a probe into the role of the WHO on coronavirus, and has temporarily suspended the American financial assistance to it. Many countries, including Australia, Germany and Great Britain, have blamed China for the spread of Covid-19, that has killed over 2,40,000 people globally and has infected 3.4 million. Even in India, the total confirmed cases have crossed the 40,000 mark, with death toll over 1,300. Dr Swapneil Parikh, a practising doctor based in Mumbai, which is the worst corona-affected city in India, writes in The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About the Global Pandemic (Penguin, Rs 299), one of the first books on the subject which he co-authored with Maherra Desai and Dr Rajesh Parikh, about patients in China reporting symptoms as early as 8 December 2019. “As multiple pneumonia cases surfaced, health authorities alerted the Chinese officials, but were silenced.”
One among these was Dr Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old eye specialist who noticed that the hospital he worked at was “quarantining several patients with SARS-like symptoms”. The Chinese government came down heavily on him and other citizens who “deviated from the official narrative”. It was only when the situation went out of control that the Chinese authorities chose to inform to the world on 31 December 2019 — about six weeks after the “first animal-to-human transmission”. As of today, the three coronavirus whistle-blowers in China — Chen Qiushi, Fang Bing and Li Zehua — remain missing more than tho months after exposing the dark secrets of the outbreak from Wuhan. As for Dr Li Wenliang, who tried to issue the first warning about the deadly outbreak, he died of coronavirus! What if the Chinese authorities not silenced the voices of their corona warriors? “Had the Chinese government not tried so heavy-handedly to contain in Wuhan, it just might have stayed in Wuhan,” says Dr Swapneil Parikh in an interview with The Daily Guardian. “Unfortunately for the world and much to the dismay of the Chinese Politburo, both the disease and the information they sought to suppress went viral,” he adds. But what about the WHO? What was this health body doing all this while? The WHO, on 5 January 2020, issued a statement “encouraging global travel and trade to continue with China”. By the time it finally declared a global health emergency on January 30, about 8,000 cases had been confirmed by Chinese authorities, hundreds of people had died, and corona had crossed the Chinese borders to surface in more than a dozen countries. Still, the WHO’s tone remained deferential, if not subservient. “This declaration (of a global health emergency) is not a vote of no confidence in China,” said DirectorGeneral Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “On the contrary, the WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”
Dr Parikh, who is in the frontline as a volunteer in the ICU of the Infectious Disease Hospital in Mumbai, is careful not to attribute “sinister motives” but he concedes that the WHO has been slow in acting against the virus. “They advised people to travel to China when they clearly should have done otherwise. Instead of being the first, the WHO was the last to label it a pandemic,” he adds. Was the WHO cautious this time in declaring pandemic because of the accusation it had faced in the previous health crisis of pushing the cause of the major pharma companies? The doctor agrees. “That is precisely what I was alluding to (in the book). This was written a month prior to WHO declaring COVIID-19 a pandemic: ‘We can only hope that the unproven allegations against the WHO, of creating a panic, do not influence their decisionmaking process in correctly defining and responding to pandemics.’” The doctor, however, believes the worst is yet to come if the virus isn’t stopped now. “Currently, the tragic fiasco we are witnessing in the wealthiest nation in the world,” he says, reminding how “the Central African Republic has three ventilators and South Sudan has four. Venezuela has 80 ICU beds for a population of 32 million”. Dr Parikh, in his book, not just talks about Covid-19 but also the history of such pandemics, including the forgotten one over a hundred years in 1918-19 in which influenza killed more people in two years than both the World Wars in 10 years. To further emphasise the gravity of the situation, he quotes Sir William Osler: “Humanity has but three great enemies: fever, famine and war; of these by far the greatest, by far the most terrible is fever.” For him, however, bioterrorism is not a new phenomenon. “Viruses are the most political of all creatures.
Machiavellian in their machinations and Maoist in their ability to retreat only to advance again, they can bring down empires faster than human revolutions,” he says as he reminds how Hernán Cortés, with just 900 men, was able to conquer Mexico “because the smallpox virus which one of his slaves carried killed over half the Aztecs”. He adds, quoting his own book, “The West was won using viruses for bioterrorism rather than the whitewashed Hollywood accounts of the bravery of cowboys.” Now that coronavirus has spread to over 180 countries, what’s the way out? “The virus does not respect geographic borders, nor GDPs and military arsenals. As long as any one of us is unsafe, all of us are unsafe… We need to urgently attend to our poorest, especially our migrant workers, and ramp up our testing, tracing and treatment programmes,” advises Dr Parikh, who himself developed symptoms three weeks ago and was quarantined for a couple of weeks. Fortunately, he tested negative. Ask him about it, and he says matter-of-factly, “This what we signed up for years ago!”