People hold placards supporting then-candidate for the post of Director General of World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during a rally in front of the United Nations offices on May 23, 2017, in Geneva.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images
The director-general of the World Health Organization, audibly near tears, pleaded with world leaders not to use the virus as a political tool to drive a wedge down party lines.
“Whoever has whatever ideology, whether that person is from left or right or center, they should work together to fight this virus, to save these real people,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Tedros said maybe it’s the case that some politicians “don’t understand” the deadly implications of their actions: “Maybe they’re lucky. They may not understand it. Maybe they had an easy ride in life, so they don’t understand what this means.”
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Well over 165,000 people around the world have died from the novel coronavirus.
But on Monday, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged political leaders around the globe not to forget that each of those numbers stands for a person’s life, that they were, “the mother of somebody, the father of somebody, the daughter of somebody, and the son of somebody,” before they died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
He suggested any leaders who are dismissing the pandemic must have had “an easy ride in life, so they don’t understand what this means.”
An emotional Tedros, audibly near tears at moments, once again pleaded with world leaders not to use the virus as a political tool to drive a wedge down party lines.
“Whoever has whatever ideology, whether that person is from left or right or center, they should work together to fight this virus, to save these real people,” Tedros told reporters, during a virtual press conference streamed from Geneva.
“Please work together. Don’t use this virus as an opportunity to fight against each other or score political points. It’s dangerous. It’s like playing with fire.”
Tedros, who is originally from Eritrea, a country which was at war for 20 years until 2018, looked back on his own experiences dealing with needless death and suffering during the conference.
“When I think about the losses of lives, it reminds me of my own experience,” he said. “These are real people dying and I’m just warning people who may think that these are numbers. They’re not numbers. These are people.”
Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has his temperature taken as he arrives at Ruhenda airport in Butembo, to visit operations aimed at preventing the spread of Ebola and treating its victims, in eastern Congo, Saturday, June 15, 2019.
AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro
This isn’t the first time the director-general has gotten, by his own telling, “emotional” during a WHO press conference.
Earlier this month, Tedros mentioned he’s received death threats while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic response because he is black, and said “I don’t give a damn.”
Tedros did not mention Trump by name on Monday, but instead suggested that “cracks between people, between parties, is fueling” COVID-19.
“Without national unity and global solidarity, trust us, the worst is yet ahead of us,” he said.
Tedros’ comments came just a day after Trump applauded US protesters who formed crowds over the weekend, in fierce opposition to their own state lockdown orders, which are aimed at stopping coronavirus transmission by keeping people far apart.
“I watched a protest and they were all six feet apart. I mean, it was a very orderly group of people,” Trump said at the White House on Sunday. “Some governors have gone too far. Some of the things that happened are maybe not so appropriate.”
Governors, both Republican and Democratic, vehemently disagreed with the President’s statements Sunday, which are not backed by sound public health advice about how to control COVID-19, nor are they consistent with the White House’s own advice about how to best control the outbreak, by avoiding social gatherings during this time.
Tedros, who trained as an immunologist before moving on to serve in politics, as an Ethiopian minister of public health and foreign affairs, became the first person from Africa to lead the WHO in 2017.
“I know the tragedy that comes from disease, from pandemics, from war, from hate, equally from poverty,” Tedros said. “To keep quiet and not say what I see is wrong.”
In a thinly veiled dig at world leaders who are using the crisis to score some political points, like Trump, Tedros said maybe it’s the case that politicians simply “don’t understand” the implications of their actions.
“I know war. I know poverty. I know how people really are influenced by all this,” he said. “Maybe for people who don’t know this, maybe they’re lucky. They may not understand it. Maybe they had an easy ride in life, so they don’t understand what this means.”
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