March 29, 2021

Please see below for a statement from the O’Neill Institute’s Director for Global Health Policy and Politics Matthew Kavanagh:

The Associated Press reports that a panel of scientists tasked by the World Health Organization to research the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic find the virus was most likely transmitted from animals to humans, and that a lab leak is an unlikely scenario.

This report provides important insights about the likely origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, but more information will be needed. It is clear that that the Chinese government has not provided all the data needed and, until they do, firmer conclusions will be difficult.

Criticisms of the World Health Organization (WHO), however, reflect a misunderstanding of the agency’s role and the chronic tendency of the WHO’s member countries and political pundits to blame WHO for not doing things that member states have not, in fact, empowered it to do. WHO plays an indispensable, if imperfect, role on everything from AIDS, Ebola, and COVID-19 to chronic diseases. In this case, though, its task may be impossible. Weakening it further helps no one, but might well be the result of putting WHO in the middle of great power confrontation without the tools to resolve it.

If this is a priority for major powers like the United States and European Union, those governments have to do more to strengthen the effort and WHO.

We may not know the true source of this virus for years, if ever. In the meantime we need a stronger, more capable WHO, not one disabled by being caught in great power conflict.


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