Brazil’s President Accuses the WHO of ‘Ideological Bias’ and Threatens Withdrawal

Brazil’s President Accuses the WHO of ‘Ideological Bias’ and Threatens Withdrawal
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro threatened to withdraw from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday. (Photo: Andressa Anholete, Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump apparently isn’t the only world leader unhappy with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and who’s willing to take drastic steps in response. On Friday, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro accused the WHO of having an “ideological bias” and threatened to withdraw from the organisation.

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Bolsonaro made the comments after the WHO warned governments in Latin America about the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to Reuters. Bolsonaro is a proponent of lifting state isolation orders and says the economic costs outweigh the public health risks.

“I’m telling you right now, the United States left the WHO, and we’re studying that, in the future,” Bolsonaro said, per Al Jazeera. “Either the WHO works without ideological bias, or we leave, too.”

This isn’t the first time Bolsonaro has sounded like Trump during the coronavirus pandemic. He has also downplayed the severity of the pandemic, criticised states’ stay-at-home measures and promoted unproven coronavirus treatments such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for patients with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Trump announced that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the WHO in May, stating that China had “total control” over the organisation. The U.S. president has accused the United Nations agency of helping China cover up the beginning of the pandemic.

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When asked about efforts to loosen social distancing orders in Brazil despite rising death rates and diagnoses, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris expressed concern over the situation in Latin America.

“The epidemic, the outbreak, in Latin America is deeply, deeply concerning,” she said at a news conference, adding that among six key criteria for easing quarantines, “one of them is ideally having your transmission declining.”

Brazil is one of the hardest-hit countries by the pandemic. As of this weekend, it has the second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, with 672,846, and the third-highest number of deaths, 35,930, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre. The U.S. currently has the highest number of cases, with 1.9 million, and the highest number of deaths, 110,141, worldwide.

Nonetheless, the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Brazil may not be so clear in the near future, although it should be noted that the tallies weren’t exactly accurate before. In recent days, Bolsonaro reportedly ordered the government to stop releasing total numbers of cases and deaths and wipe the official government coronavirus website clean. Now, the government website only shows new daily confirmed cases, recovered cases, and deaths.

Other Brazilian officials have accused the move of being authoritarian and unethical, the Guardian reported.

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“The authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical attempt to make those killed by Covid-19 invisible will not succeed. We and Brazilian society will not forget them, nor the tragedy that befalls the nation,” said Alberto Beltrame, president of the country’s national council of state health secretaries.