A liar begins with making falsehood appear like truth, and ends with making truth itself appear like falsehood,” poet William Shenstone once wrote. These words are likely to strike a chord with those who have been following the World Health Organisation’s ever more desperate attempts to convince an increasingly sceptical public of its benign intentions in a bid to secure its plans for a new global pandemic prevention framework.

The latest missive came two weeks ago when Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, used the global stage of the World Governments Summit to reiterate the WHO party line: that ever more virulent, frequent pandemics pose an existential threat for which an underprepared world must urgently ready itself by adopting the WHO’s proposed pandemic management framework via a package of amendments to the existing International Health Regulations (IHR) and the new Pandemic Treaty. Each of these two accords is scheduled to be adopted by the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA), in May 2024.

The world, according to Tedros, would be able to sleep easier at night were it not for “two major obstacles to meeting [the May] deadline.” The first is “a group of issues on which countries have not yet reached consensus” — those pesky Member States unhelpfully exercising their rights autonomously to disagree! And the second is “the litany of lies and conspiracy theories about the agreement” — presumably referencing those who, like UsForThem, have persistently dared to raise legally evidence-based concerns about the frightening scope and unprecedented implications of the proposals.

The first obstacle is telling in itself: far from this being isolated concerns of one or two recalcitrant Member States, it appears this disquiet is shared by an entire continent, and then some: the self-called “Equity Bloc” of nations includes many of the African states. The sticking point itself is also revealing: ‘equity’ is shorthand for equal access to health products and resources and relates to the fact that developing nations, almost entirely cut out from access to vaccines, etc, during the Covid pandemic, understandably are now seeking guarantees for more ‘equitable’ access to these therapeutics. 

According to one insider blog post, “developed countries are making all efforts to undermine the equity-created amendment proposals,” before revealing that “the WHO Secretariat is also toeing the same line,” presumably on the grounds that this communist-style technology transfer from rich to poor would involve a transfer of wealth and know-how unpalatable to the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma benevolence has its limits, it would seem.

The second obstacle — the litany of lies and conspiracy theories — reflects an escalating controversy about the purported scope and intended impact of the WHO’s pandemic framework dating back to the original version of the proposals published back in February 2023. 

One does not need a degree in international law (although as it happens the author holds one) to understand that the legal impact of the proposed IHR amendments would be to create a new command and control public health regime whereby Member States would submit to the binding authority of the WHO in relation to the management of actual or perceived international public health emergencies. Indeed, to understand the implications, one only has to be able to read. 

In particular, the proposed IHR amendments contained new clauses which amended the definitions of previously non-binding ‘recommendations,’ and which provided that Member States will ‘undertake to follow’ a WHO-ordained public health response, which in turn covers powers to recommend lockdowns, quarantines, travel passes, mandatory testing, and mandatory medication including vaccination. The first draft of the new Pandemic Treaty contained a commitment which would have required Member States to commit a staggering 5% of national health budgets to international pandemic prevention and preparedness. (Following initial outrage, we know that this rather ambitious financial commitment subsequently was diluted into a more generic obligation to secure adequate funding.)

These proposals though seemed unambiguous in their intent and effect, and so a flurry of legally grounded commentatorsjurists, and politicians raised flags about what seemed to be clear overreach by this unelected and largely unaccountable multilateral organisation, infringing on the autonomy and sovereignty of national governments and parliaments.

Tedros called foul, seething on social media back in March 2023 that “no country will cede any sovereignty to the WHO. We continue to see misinformation…about the pandemic accord…the claim that the accord will cede power to the WHO is quite simply false. It’s fake news.

The debate has raged on since then, and as public concern has mounted — in no small part due to the failure of the WHO to release updated drafts particularly of the IHR amendments in accordance with its own timetables, a failure which is fueling the theory that there may be something to hide — so too has Tedros’ consternation grown, culminating in his ‘litany of lies and conspiracy theories’ speech in February in which he specifically denounced suggestions that the Pandemic Treaty “is a power grab by the WHO,” “that it will give the WHO power to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates on countries,” “that it’s an attack on freedom,” as “dangerous lies,” “utterly, completely, categorically false.” 

So who is right?

Having missed its own January 2024 deadline to publish revised drafts of the IHR amendments, it is impossible for the public to know whether its most offensive provisions, such as those mentioned above, will subsist into the final texts presented to the WHA in May. As the drafts currently stand, however, it is hard to see how Tedros is squaring the circle between texts into which are written in black and white binding obligations, and the notion that somehow this would not impinge on national decision-making autonomy.

Tedros’s bold denials have been couched specifically and exclusively in reference to the Pandemic Treaty, and for good reason: “The pandemic agreement will not give the WHO any power over any state or any individual,” he asserted most recently in February, “the draft agreement is available on the WHO website for anyone who wants to read it…and anyone who does will not find a single sentence or a single word giving the WHO any power over sovereign states.” 

Tedros chose his words carefully because technically he is correct that the Pandemic Treaty does not contain these provisions, and an interim draft of it (from October 2023) is available on the WHO website. But as is well known by anyone familiar with the proposals, the offending provisions aren’t contained in the draft Treaty, but in the amendments to the IHRs about which Tedros has maintained a steadfast silence and of which no interim drafts are available on the WHO’s website.

Tedros’s allegations that those who suggest that the Treaty would impinge national sovereignty are either “uninformed or lying” look to be, well…uninformed or disingenuous at best when set against that broader context of which Tedros cannot credibly claim to be unaware. If Tedros or the WHO wish to dispute this charge they should do so with a clearly referenced legally-evidenced rebuttal against the IHR provisions listed above. 

In further support of us uninformed, lying conspiracy theorists, the power-grabbing intentions of the WHO are rather helpfully laid bare in a paper authored by one of the key architects of the IHR amendments, Lawrence Gostin, who as director of the WHO Collaborating Centre describes himself as “actively involved in WHO processes for a pandemic agreement and IHR reform.

Citing the fact that “there has been widespread noncompliance and exploitation of loopholes” under the existing IHR frameworks as a motivation to seek “potentially transformative legal reforms,” Gostin is refreshingly open about the fact that the aim of the IHR amendments would be to “fundamentally restructure the global health governance architecture.

New “bold norms” would, he says, see the WHO’s temporary outbreak guidance transformed to “binding rules,” requiring states to “comply” and to be “held accountable.” Indeed, he notes that a number of States, the US included, have proposed “compliance” committees for the purpose of “boosting adherence to the new IHR norms.” He candidly addresses concerns about the potential for this new public health regime to impinge on personal autonomy, recognising the “complex trade-offs” involved and the reality that “much of public health law boils down to the balance between affirmative measures to protect community health with restrictions on personal autonomy.” In case the reader was in any doubt, he confirms that all of this “may require all states to forgo some level of sovereignty in exchange for enhanced safety and fairness,” words which should reassure precisely no one.

The matter of sovereignty is not the only area where the statements of the WHO and its senior officials appear to be evidentially unsupported. The legitimacy — such as there can said to be any — of the WHO’s proposals to bolster pandemic preparedness are predicated on a world plagued by ever more dangerous and frequent pandemics: History teaches us that the next pandemic is a matter of when, not if,” says Tedros, a sentiment shared by the WHO’s director of health emergencies Mike Ryan who, in bemoaning delays in reaching agreement on the new texts, recently complained that whilst Member States had been negotiating the elves have been in the basement processing 37,000 signals of potential epidemics…”

This thesis, however, is heavily disputed by experts based at Leeds University who in a paper pointedly titled “Rational Policy Over Panic” suggest that the evidential basis which forms the bedrock for the WHO’s pandemic response agenda has been grossly overinflated. “[T]he data and evidence is poorly supportive of current pandemic risk assumptions,” they note, explaining that, ”the data suggests that an increase in recorded natural outbreaks could be largely explained by technological advancements in diagnostic testing over the past 60 years…Covid-19, if indeed of natural origin, appears as an outlier rather than part of an underlying trend.”

This matters not only for legal and philosophical reasons, but also for economic ones. The WHO’s pandemic prevention aspirations involve a huge divestment of resources from other health policy areas into pandemic prevention; estimates used by the WHO and the World Bank propose c. $31.5 billion in total annual funding for pandemic prevention, as compared to c. $3.8 billion in current annual funding of the WHO, and $3 billion in total estimated funding globally for malaria, which kills over 600,000 people annually, close to 500,000 of whom are children.

This matters in itself, but also because there is a suspicion that the WHO’s direction and purpose is being driven too much by those who hold its purse strings. Less than 20% of the WHO’s financing originates from core contributions by Member States, the majority of its funding being for specified purposes, much of it from private donors. Of that, the lion’s share is provided by the Gates Foundation; indeed that organisation is the second-largest overall donor to the WHO. That organisation has strong financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which stands to profit so significantly from the vaccine-based solutions at the centre of the WHO’s ever increasing focus on pandemic prevention.

In 2022 the WHO set up the WHO Foundation with the aim of attracting further philanthropic donations from the commercial sector. Leaving aside the overarching question of the suitability of a private funding model for an organisation seeking far-reaching powers over global public health, even on its own terms the model appears problematic: set up explicitly to ‘insulate’ the WHO from potential conflicts of interest and reputational risk the Foundation in its short life has been accused of a lack of transparency and behaviours which undermine good governance. 

To borrow another famous author’s words, “The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool,” and so it has proved.

Whilst the funding model of the WHO is no secret, the reality is that the reach of the pharmaceutical industry and its vast financial resources is such to mean that there has been frighteningly little candid commentary about the WHO’s financial relations in global mainstream media. With few among the general public understanding that the same people who fund the WHO also fund millions of pounds into global media (in the UK alone, the Gates Foundation grantee list includes the Guardian, the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times), it is all too easy for Tedros and Co’s denouncement of those of us raising concerns as dangerous conspiracists to remain unchallenged: take for example this recent Guardian piece, which in uncritically parroting Tedros’s “torrent of fake news, lies, and conspiracy theories” mantra conspicuously failed to mention that, according to the publicly available list of Gates Foundation donations, the Guardian appears to have taken USD 3.5 million in 2020 alone from that organisation.

With media shying away from publishing views critical of the WHO and its pharma sponsors, our politicians remain naively blind to the web of ulterior, vested motivations driving the restructuring of global public health. But with one set of actors coming to the table with clean hands — no undisclosed financial incentives nor purse strings pulled by profit-driven corporations — and the other with hands stained by pharmaceutical profits and dancing to the tune of undisclosed funders, who would the public trust were they only to be fed the facts?

This article was first published at Brownstone Institute

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