I Think it is Safe to Say that the WHO Has Lost All Credibility

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 17, 2010

I mean, why did the organization–presumably in good faith–act to bring about this article?

The World Health Organization found itself Friday in the strange position of defending North Korea’s health care system from an Amnesty International report, three months after WHO’s director described medicine in the totalitarian state as the envy of the developing world.

WHO spokesman Paul Garwood insisted he wasn’t criticizing Amnesty’s work, but the public relations flap illustrated an essential quandary for aid groups in unfree states: how to help innocent people without playing into the hands of their leaders.

Amnesty’s report on Thursday described North Korea’s health care system in shambles, with doctors sometimes performing amputations without anesthesia and working by candlelight in hospitals lacking essential medicine, heat and power. It also raised questions about whether coverage is universal as it — and WHO — claimed, noting most interviewees said they or a family member had given doctors cigarettes, alcohol or money to receive medical care. And those without any of these reported that they could get no health assistance at all.

Garwood said Thursday’s report by Amnesty was mainly anecdotal, with stories dating back to 2001, and not up to the U.N. agency’s scientific approach to evaluating health care.

“All the facts are from people who aren’t in the country,” Garwood told reporters in Geneva. “There’s no science in the research.”

The issue is sensitive for WHO because its director-general, Margaret Chan, praised the communist country after a visit in April and described its health care as the “envy” of most developing nations.

Let’s be clear about this: It is ridiculous to describe the North Korean health care system as the envy of anything. It is certainly ridiculous to argue that people who think that the North Korean health care system is as deranged as . . . well . . . just about every other “system” in North Korea, ought to be made to sit down and shut up. And it is especially ridiculous for an organization like the WHO to lend whatever prestige that it possesses to try to excuse the North Korean health care community for the disastrous practices it follows in “treating” patients.

I wonder if the WHO apologists for North Korea would be willing to have themselves, or their loved ones, treated in the country. Somehow, I doubt it.

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