COVIDian Reflections: W.H.O. Through the Prism of Trust, Intelligence and Wisdom

Does trust have any relation with intelligence and wisdom? In other words, can trust turn an intelligent person into foolish one, at least temporarily, and unknowingly cajole him/her to take unwise decisions? Let us look at these questions in the light of the actions of  the World Health Organisation, or W.H.O., during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before we proceed further, a little deep dwelling into the element of trust. 

Trust is the judgmental response to accumulation of truthful behavior over a period of time. Hence, the factor that decides whether to trust or not is correctness of judgement. And correctness of judgment is our ability to decide if the perceived truthful behavior is real or fake. Fake means putting up a false front through lying. Lying has two versions. The first version is twisting of facts — inflating or deflating of facts or telling diametrically opposite of truth — and the second version is concocting and spreading non-existing things. Judgement is an evaluation of one or both of these versions. Repetitive vindicatory assessment of a person against possible data is a verifiable way to guard against the first version, and based on this verification, we can almost judge whether a person is telling truth or giving inflated or deflated facts — lying — and, accordingly, discount or scale up what he/she says to arrive at/near to truth. Over a period of time, we can fix a discount or scale-up coefficient for a particular person who has the habit of inflating or deflating facts. The second version demands us to ask a fundamental question, “What is the vested interest of a person in telling non-existent things to us? An unemotional answer to this question will surely be a shield against making wrong judgment. 

President George W. Bush once said, “Trust should be verifiable.” What he meant was that we should evaluate the hypothesis that people are trustworthy against the above two versions of lying so that we would not surrender intelligence to take wise decisions. In other words, verifying trust means using our intelligence to find out if a person is lying or not. When we trust someone without verifying what he/she says, we are not using our intelligence vis-à-vis that person.

The World trusted that the W.H.O., as an organisation entrusted with International Public Health, would provide accurate and correct information about the COVID-19 pandemic when the outbreak erupted. So the peoples of the world trusted W.H.O. without verifying much what it advised. But, did W.H.O. do its duty in an independent and unbiased manner? Let’s look at what W.H.O. told and did from December 31, 2019, when China reported the outbreak to the organization.

On January 14, W.H.O. tweeted that the Chinese investigation found no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus. Apparently, without making much scientific scrutiny on its own, W.H.O. parroted the Chinese words. Coincidentally, on the same day, the Wuhan Health Commission issued a public statement that the possibility of human-to-human transmission could not be ruled out. So it is unbelievable that W.H.O. did not include a caveat for human-to-human transmission on its January 14th press release though Novel Coronavirus was from the same family of SARS virus that spreads from human-to-human. 

Another important point: On his Weibo — Chinese equivalent of Twitter — post, Dr.Li Wenliang, the whistle blower doctor, explained how he started coughing on January 10, had fever the next day, and got admitted to a hospital after 2 days for suspected COVID-19 case. That means he was admitted to the hospital on January 13 with a suspected case of human-to-human transmission of Novel Coronavirus. But W.H.O. took another 8 days to say on January 22 that there was possibility of human-to-human transmission when it held its next meeting on the same day. How could W.H.O. miss the hospital-admission of Dr.Li? Those 8 days were crucial as during this period the virus would have traveled demographically and geographically — social distancing and usage of masks, which are being currently used to contain the pandemic, could have been implemented much earlier, thus, mitigating the scale of the catastrophe the world is witnessing now. Isn’t it a serious lapse by W.H.O. that misled the world initially? Then also, it refrained from declaring the Novel Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan as a public health emergency of international concern after its meeting on January 22. It waited till 40 countries got the epidemic to declare Coronavirus as a public Health emergency of international concern on January 30. Even after this declaration, W.H.O. was advising against international travel bans, with Tedros Adhano, the first non-physician Director General of W.H.O., visiting China and praising China’s leadership for “setting a new standard for outbreak response.”  Alas, the new standard crumbled the world and killed thousands and is still on rampage!

Absence of required actions from W.H.O. continued. By February 26, the virus reached 104 countries and there were more cases outside China than in China, but Tedros continued to be hesitant to use the word pandemic, rather he was telling that the world still had the “Window of Opportunity.”  Finally, by the time W.H.O. declared the outbreak as a pandemic on March 12, the virus had already killed more than 4000 and  infected around 118000 people across every continent.

Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistle blower, did treat the pneumonia like disease and noticed the virus as early as December but was afraid to tell anyone, finally, disclosing it on a chat group on December 30. Dr. Li, was arrested and censured for “spreading rumors” on December 31, and on the same evening, China reported the outbreak to W.H.O. So the Chinese Communist Party, or C.C.P., knew it in early December but covered it up. 

It was reported that one study found that China could have limited its own infections by up to 95 percent had the government acted in that early period when doctors like Dr.Li had first raised the alarm. But C.C.P. was still denying the extent of the problem. China locked Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, and other cities in Hubei province on January 23. But by that time, millions of people from Wuhan had sprang out of the city, traveled all over China and the world to celebrate the Chinese New Year. These facts were on the table, but since the W.H.O. was not declaring it as a pandemic and that it was advocating against international travel bans till March 12, the world did not take it seriously and by that time, the Chinese who traveled abroad silently and unobtrusively spread the virus that exploded exponentially later across the world. So the Chinese government’s misinformation and the W.H.O.’s failure to correctly advise the world did the damage that is still raging. World Health Organization or Wuhan Health Organization! No wonder the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister called the W.H.O. as Chinese Health Organization. It is also justified that the POTUS suspended the financial contribution to the W.H.O.

So it all come to this: the world trusted the W.H.O., hence, believed what it said about Novel Coronavirus. In other words, the world did not use its intelligence to verify that the W.H.O./C.C.P. was telling lies in the form of under-reporting the seriousness of the disease — deflating the facts. So the world did not use a “scale up coefficient” to arrive at the factual situation coming out of the W.H.O./China. The world was slumbered  to be only deceived by the C.C.P./W.H.O. This slumbering was augmented by the fact that the W.H.O. criticized China for not giving enough information during the SARS outbreak, so the world believed and trusted that what Tedros telling was as good as the W.H.O. did during the SARS outbreak. Yes, the world was conditioned to trust — not to use its intelligence to verify and use wisdom to take the correct decision — the W.H.O. But there is one country that used its intelligence, not trust, to filter what the C.C.P./W.H.O. was telling, hence, understood the lies and prevented the virus from spreading and causing havoc. It is Taiwan. How did Taiwan accomplish this seemingly difficult task?

Taiwanese officials said that from the very beginning they knew that the C.C.P. was lying — implied that the W.H.O.’s advises and guidelines were patently wrong — regarding COVID-19. This was based on their experience with SARS outbreak that also was erupted in China and then also the C.C.P. lied and under-reported the epidemic. It means that Taiwan already had the scale-up coefficient for the C.C.P. so for the W.H.O. Hence, Taiwan decided to quarantine all the incoming passengers — both nationals and foreigners — to the country for 14 days compulsorily irrespective of whether they showed symptoms of COVID-19 or not. Taiwan used its intelligence to verify the trust it had in the W.H.O./C.C.P. and found that they were deflating facts — lying — resulting in using its wisdom to choose the correct decision of quarantining all incoming passengers. Besides this, it went for aggressive testing for the virus and use of masks among the people. With these steps, Taiwan is the most successful country in containing the virus —- 395 cases, 6 deaths and 166 recoveries as on April 17, 2020 — despite reporting the first infection on January 21. No lockdown of the country, with schools and commercial establishments working without any hindrance. An example of using intelligence to verify trust, thus, preventing a catastrophe.

Nations and leaders of the world did not use their intelligence and wisdom but trusted the W.H.O. so paying a heavy price. By the time they realized that they were lulled into deceit, it was too late. COVID-19 will teach us many lessons, and one lesson that will be imprinted on the conscience of mankind is that unverified trust is only as good as lies.

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