Politics

The WHO may be 'imperfect' but the world still needs it, says Dr. Anthony Fauci

One of the lead members of U.S. President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 advisory panel says the world still needs the World Health Organization, despite some of the flaws that have been exposed during this pandemic.

In an interview with CBC, Dr. Fauci says he has 'good relationships' with World Health Organization

In an interview with CBC News, Dr. Anthony Fauci, centre, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says the world needs the World Health Organization. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

One of the lead members of U.S. President Donald Trump's COVID-19 advisory panel says the world still needs the World Health Organization, despite some of the flaws that have been exposed during this pandemic.

In an interview with CBC News, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he supports the WHO and is pushing for improvements so it can "correct some of the missteps of the past."

"The WHO is an imperfect organization. It certainly has made some missteps but it has also done a lot of good," Fauci told the CBC's Rosemary Barton.

"I would hope that we could continue to benefit from what the WHO can do at the same time that they continue to improve themselves. I've had good relationships with the WHO and the world needs the WHO."

Trump has been critical of the WHO's performance. He's accused the UN body of being too close to the Communist regime in Beijing, saying "China has total control" over the WHO.

At the end of May, Trump announced he was terminating the U.S. relationship with the WHO, an organization that was created after the Second World War to coordinate international health policy and monitor infectious diseases.

"We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engaged with them directly, but they have refused to act because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms," Trump said.

WATCH | Anthony Fauci says the world needs the WHO, 'as imperfect as it is'

Speaking to CBC's Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton, U.S.'s top infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says he supports the World Health Organization — and is pushing for improvements to "correct some of the missteps of the past." 1:23

Fauci said that, early on in the pandemic, some of the Chinese scientists working in infectious diseases were "not able to express" their concerns about the risk of human-to-human transmission in a transparent way.

The result was the WHO downplaying the risk of that disease vector spread for weeks. Citing WHO talking-points, Canadian public health officials questioned the accuracy of media reports out of the city of Wuhan, in China, suggesting that the virus was spreading through person-to-person contact.

"There may have been things that would have been done sooner both in China and outside China," Fauci said. "The original reports were that this was a dominant animal-to-human spread."

Trump's decision to pull out of the WHO has serious financial consequences; the U.S. is, by far, the largest contributor to the agency's budget.

In the last fiscal year, it sent nearly $900 million to support the WHO — double what the second-largest contributor, the United Kingdom, sent to the Geneva-based body.

The organization has helped to eradicate smallpox, cut the number of polio cases and was a critical part of the global effort to stamp out Ebola outbreaks in West Africa.

It has tried to provide global guidance on stopping the spread of COVID-19, but it has been forced to backtrack on some of its initial advice.

Asymptomatic transmission

Just this week, the WHO scrambled to clarify comments one of its top doctors made about asymptomatic transmission.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization's technical lead for coronavirus response, said it "seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual" — a statement that forced Fauci to say the WHO "was not correct."

The WHO later said there are still many unknowns about how the virus is transmitted.

Fauci has said as many as 25 to 45 per cent of infected people likely don't have symptoms.

Canadian and U.S. officials are in talks to extend the border closure beyond June 21, the date last scheduled for a potential re-opening to non-essential travel.

Fauci said he's not "an expert on opening or closing of borders" but he said there needs to be a significant reduction in the numbers of deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. before borders can be safely re-opened.

WATCH | Anthony Fauci is asked about how the U.S.-Canada border can reopen

As Canada-U.S. border restrictions continue and as Coronavirus cases spike in many parts of U.S., the country's top infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci tells CBC's Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton that it "makes one pause and be a little bit concerned." 2:32

He said while there has been meaningful progress in flattening the curve in some areas, there have been troubling spikes in populous states like California, Florida and Texas in recent days.

"Some states are now having an increase in the number of cases (that) makes one pause and be a little bit concerned," he said.

A big 'if'

Fauci sounded a positive note on the prospect of a vaccine, saying Phase 3 trials — a crucial step in the vaccine-making process, when drugs are tested for efficacy and safety — are beginning in early July for a vaccine that his organization has developed.

"If we're successful, and I have to underline 'if' ... we're cautiously optimistic that by the end of the year, the beginning of 2021, we could have a vaccine to deploy to the public," he said.

A vaccine is seen as essential to ending the pandemic that has infected more than 7.2 million people and killed 410,000 globally.

Beyond a vaccine, Fauci said there's an array of therapeutic treatments at various stages of development.

He added it's still possible that the U.S. and Canada can avoid a deadly second wave of the virus if outbreaks can be contained through mass testing and contact tracing.

Watch | Rosemary Barton's full interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci

Rosemary Barton asks the United States's top infectious disease expert about how his country has handled the pandemic and what's next. 8:31

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

With files from the CBC's Philip Ling

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