WHO director hits back at Pompeo, insisting he was not 'bought by China': 'COVID politics should be quarantined'

WHO director hits back at Pompeo, insisting he was not 'bought by China': 'COVID politics should be quarantined'
FILE - In this Monday, March 9, 2020 file photo, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization speaks during a news conference on updates regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Outbreak experts say the increasing attacks from U.S. President Donald Trump on the World Health Organization for its handling of the coronavirus demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the U.N. health agency's role and could ultimately serve to weaken global health. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, file)Associated Press
  • The WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded Thursday to comments Mike Pompeo made last week that the leader was "bought" by China.
  • The allegations aren't only untrue, Tedros and his colleagues said, but distract from the central mission of the WHO: to save lives.
  • Trump has been a critic of the WHO since the beginning of the pandemic for what he sees as favoritism toward China.

In a media briefing Thursday, the World Health Organization's director-general defended himself against US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's reported allegations that the leader was "bought" by China.

"The comments are untrue and unacceptable and without any foundation," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in response to a question from BBC reporter Imogen Foulkes.

Last week in a private meeting in the UK with British members of Parliament, Pompeo reportedly said he had seen US intelligence showing Tedros was "bought by the Chinese government" in a deal to secure the job.


Pompeo also reportedly said the WHO is "a political, not a science-based organization."

While a WHO spokesperson previously told Business Insider's Adam Payne they reject the "ad hominem attacks and unfounded allegations," on Thursday, Tedros and his colleagues addressed it themselves, condemning the reports as distractions from their real mission of saving lives.

'Politics should be quarantined'

Tedros continued on Thursday: "Our sole focus ... is on saving lives. If there is one thing that really matters to us and which should matter to the entire international community, it's saving lives."


He said the comments were distracting to that mission and an example of how this pandemic has become politicized — a reality that remains one of the biggest threats to conquering the virus.

"COVID-19 does not respect borders, ideologies, or political parties," Tedros said. "Politics should be quarantined."

Tedros's colleagues, Maria Van Kerkhove and Dr. Mike Ryan also spoke out in defense of their organization and its leader.


"I have had the honor and privilege to sit next to Dr. Tedros and Dr. Mike Ryan ... since the beginning of this pandemic, and I have never been more proud to be WHO," said Van Kerkhove, an American infectious disease epidemiologist who serves as WHO's COVID-19 technical lead.

"I see firsthand every day the work that Dr. Tedros does, that Mike does, that our teams do all over the world," she added. "We are firmly focused on saving lives."

Ryan, an Irish epidemiologist and former surgeon who serves as executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, added that, for years, the organization's workers have risked harm in the fight for social justice and global health.


Political distractions are unhelpful for the morale of frontline workers.

"I am proud to sit by the side of Dr. Tedros," whose leadership has helped change the direction of the organization for the better, Ryan said.

Trump has been a WHO critic since the beginning of the outbreak

President Trump has criticizing the WHO since the beginning of the pandemic for what he sees as favoritism toward China.


In May he said Beijing had "total control over" the organization and claiming that China pressured the WHO to "mislead the world" when the virus was first found in Wuhan.

The WHO's relationship with China, which Trump sees as too cozy, also stands in contrast to its response to the nation during the SARS epidemic, when then-leader Gro Harlem Brundtland openly criticized its failure to report and share information promptly.