Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been sending out mixed, and sometimes contradictory, messages on how the virus spreads and how it can be avoided.
That creates confusion and makes it harder for health authorities, medical staff and ordinary people to know exactly what to do and what to stop doing.
In the latest such confusing statements, the WHO sought to answer the two most important questions: Can people who do not feel sick spread the coronavirus, and if so should we all be wearing masks to stop it?
The WHO plays a critical role in the pandemic crisis. It is the only international body that tracks the spread of the virus globally and tries to coordinate efforts to combat it. It is important that continues to get the support it needs to do boost its efforts in fighting the pandemic, especially in developing countries
In the initial days of the pandemic, WHO officials confirmed possibility that transmission could occur from people who had the disease but were not yet symptomatic. But on Tuesday, the WHO changed its mind.
The organisation’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said it was “rare” that people who do not show symptoms would spread the virus to others.
Medical experts and practitioners had a problem with this surprising statement. According to many recent studies, people can actually spread the virus before suffering symptoms.
That led the WHO to issue another statement on the same day in which it agreed with the emerging evidence that symptomatic people and those who do not show symptoms can both transmit the virus.
WHO contradictory statement adds more confusion to the question that has yet to be clearly answered: how the coronavirus spreads in different circumstances?
In the absence of a clearly defined answer, wearing the mask has therefore become mandatory in most countries around the world. The WHO, however, had maintained for weeks that it was not necessary for healthy people to wear face masks.
Then, earlier this week, a WHO statement said — in what has become a trend for the organisation to contradict its own positions — that everyone should wear face masks in public.
“WHO has developed this [new] guidance through a careful review of all available evidence, and extensive consultation with international experts and civil society groups,” WHO’s Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted.
The WHO plays a critical role in the pandemic crisis. It is the only international body that tracks the spread of the virus globally and tries to coordinate efforts to combat it.
It is important that continues to get the support it needs to do boost its efforts in fighting the pandemic, especially in developing countries.
But the WHO needs to ensure that its updated advices area based on solid evidence. It needs to look at more data and analysis before it makes such contradictory statements that only adds to the confusion prevailing worldwide.
A panicked world looks for assurances, for a rational advice on how to deal with the virus. On that turf, the WHO has been performing badly.