Sticking by its announcement this May that it would leave the World Health Organization (WHO), the US said Monday that it will continue to promote WHO reforms to strengthen “transparency and accountability” for the UN agency.

“Consistent with our long-standing policy, the US will continue promoting reforms that strengthen transparency and accountability at every international organization, including the WHO,” US Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir told a special 34-member WHO executive board meeting on COVID-19 in Geneva.

“We cannot overcome the failure of any member states to provide accurate, complete, and timely information on outbreaks and potential health emergencies,” he said, in what was seen as a reference to China.

At the start of the meeting, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus noted that there are almost 35 million COVID-19 cases now reported to the WHO, with over 1 million fatalities.

“The real number is certainly higher.

“Although all countries have been affected by this virus, we must remember that this is an uneven pandemic,” said Tedros.

The WHO chief noted that 10 countries account for 70% of all reported cases and deaths, and just three countries account for half – without naming the US, India, and Brazil as the countries with the highest number of cases.

US withdrawal

On May 29, US President Donald Trump announced that the US was ending its relationship with the WHO following a months-long review he had ordered.

The action, Trump said, was taken “because they [WHO] have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms,” and comes amid Trump’s general trend of disdaining international groups the US is part of.

“We will be today terminating our relationship with the WHO, and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs,” Trump added.

Trump continued to insist China had “total control” over the WHO, claiming “Chinese officials ignored their reporting obligations” to the health body during the pandemic, and “pressured” it to “mislead the world.”

On Monday, Giroir was joined by the EU and Australia in calling for the start of an international WHO-led mission to China to evaluate the origin of the novel coronavirus.

Russian vaccine

At Monday’s meeting, Russia’s Vice Health Minister Alexandra Dronova said the executive board needed to clarify the US position.

“We need to analyze legal procedures and administrative and financial procedures regarding steps taken by the US against the WHO,” she said.

Dronova also spoke on Russia’s development of a vaccine against the coronavirus and asked for an “impartial assessment” of its COVID-19 vaccine under development.

On Aug. 9, the WHO said it was following Russia’s progress in developing a COVID-19 vaccine, but cautioned that progress in fighting the virus should not compromise safety after some scientists had said it was being rushed.

“We also have a series of innovative medicines, and also the first vaccine in the world to be created against COVID-19 was made by Russia,” said Dronova.

She said Russia had provided information regarding its vaccine called Sputnik V.

“We ask you to look at an impartial assessment of measures to respond to COVID-19,” said Dronova, asking Tedros to provide a plan for WHO member states carrying out such an assessment.

Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s head of emergencies, said in the meeting that about 10% of the world’s population might have already been infected with COVID-19.

“The vast majority of the world remains at risk,” Ryan added.

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