The chief of the World Health Organisation has condemned US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for “untrue and unacceptable” comments, responding to reported allegations that included the health agency chief having been “bought” by China. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted WHO is focusing on “saving lives” as he lashed out at the comments British media have reported Mr Pompeo made at a closed-door event earlier this week in London.
Mr Tedros’ response to Mr Pompeo represented some of his most defensive and full-throated statements yet in the wake of the Trump administration’s repeated criticism of the UN health agency in recent months. British newspapers reported that Mr Pompeo said at the London event Mr Tedros had been “bought” by the Chinese government, an exceptionally personal comment against the WHO chief following the many accusations against the agency from Washington.
Critics say the Trump administration has been trying to distract attention from its own failings in managing the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, which has the most confirmed cases and virus-related deaths in the world.
In recent months, the administration has repeatedly criticised WHO’s response to the pandemic and its alleged deference to Beijing. President Donald Trump has ordered the United States to withdraw next year from the agency it has bankrolled and supported for decades.
Mr Pompeo was not asked about his reported comments at a news conference in Denmark on Wednesday. The Times reported before that appearance that Mr Pompeo had told a gathering of British politicians he had intelligence suggesting Mr Tedros had been “bought” by China’s government and his election as WHO chief in 2017 had led to the death of British nationals.
“The comments were done, I think on Tuesday – last Tuesday. And the comments are untrue and unacceptable, and without any foundation for that matter,” Mr Tedros told reporters in Geneva.
“If there is one thing that really matters to us and which should matter to the entire international community, it’s saving lives. And WHO will not be distracted by these comments.”