Covid-19 is the biggest global health threat in recent history, so why is WHO lecturing us on lifestyle choices — Jo Furnival

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APRIL 19 — Covid-19 is the greatest threat to global health in recent history, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to lecture us on our lifestyle choices, whether it’s eating, drinking, vaping or smoking.

There are many reasons not to drink alcohol, but is Covid-19 really one of them? Earlier this week, the WHO warned of the dangers of allowing people to have alcohol in their homes during lockdown, calling for restricted access.

We don’t want to encourage excessive drinking now, or at any time, but it is dangerous and deeply unscientific for the WHO to use Covid-19 as a piece of anti-drinking, anti-smoking propaganda.

What about the impact lockdown is having on mental health? Placing further restrictions on people’s habits and everyday lives is the last thing we need. In fact, one journalist has quipped, “If anything is essential during this time of compulsory boredom, it is cigarettes and alcohol.”

The WHO is using this pandemic to push their agenda on non-communicable diseases, even though the evidence doesn’t necessarily stack up. Will sugar be next to be condemned?

Perhaps gambling makes people more vulnerable to the coronavirus? It seems as though Covid-19 is the WHO’s answer to all our vices.

New data on smoking and its relation to the novel coronavirus has given the WHO an opportunity to issue the warning that “Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to Covid-19...”

However, under scrutiny, this data is far from conclusive, and might even show the opposite.

The Chinese data shows that about 7 per cent of hospitalised Covid-19 patients were smokers, while data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that only 3.6 per cent of the US Covid-19 cases are former or current smokers.

Given that smoking prevalence is 26.6 per cent and 13.7 per cent in China and the US, respectively, the number of smokers falling ill with the virus is many times lower than one would expect.

New York Scientists working on the largest US study of Covid-19 reported that, “surprisingly,” there was no association between smoking and an increased risk of falling seriously ill with the virus.

This is yet another example of the WHO failing to share the pertinent facts affecting global public health. Just recently, a controversial and damaging study linking vaping to heart attacks was retracted, but the WHO failed to speak up about that blunder; in fact, the organisationremains staunchly anti-vaping.

For a body that famously failed to declare the 2014 Ebola outbreak in the Congo as a “public health emergency of international concern” until it was too late, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised.

Margaret Chan, former-Director General of the WHO, was instead to be found giving a speech on regulating e-cigarettes. It took months for the WHO to acknowledge what turned out to be the largest Ebola outbreak in history.

Other examples of the organisation’s typically slow response to crises can be found in the 2009-10 H1N1 flu pandemic, and its underreaction to the health problems arising from the civil war in Syria.

Perhaps the WHO’s greatest failure though was in recognising vaccine hesitancy as a top threat to global health far too late, a huge nine years after Andrew Wakefield’s bogus research linking the MMR vaccine to autism was retracted and he was struck off.

The irony is certainly not lost today as the world’s leading scientists scramble to find a vaccine for Covid-19.

It’s as if the WHO is more interested in lecturing people about their lifestyle choices. Smoking is of course bad for people’s health, but there is no conclusive evidence that smokers are morelikely to contract and die from Covid-19.

In fact, old and obese people are more likely to be hospitalised with the coronavirus than cancer or lung disease patients.

The WHO is the public health arm of the United Nations and tasked with relaying accurate information about global pandemics and mitigating their spread.

But it has failed on both counts when it comes to Covid-19, forming a significant link in a long chain of government failures that have resulted in people sheltering behind closed doors for fear of coughing deadly pathogens everywhere.

What’s even more alarming is that the WHO sanctioned the use of endangered species like pangolins and sharks’ fins as “traditional medicine” in 2019, which essentially gave the green light for wet markets to stay open.

You could argue this actually contributed to the spread of Covid-19 more than anything else.

With its primary role being to “to direct and coordinate international health within the UN, and to lead partners in global health responses,” perhaps the WHO should stop lecturing people on their lifestyle choices — like eating, drinking, smoking, and vaping — and stick to the facts around Covid-19, the greatest threat to global health in our lifetime.

* Jo Furnival is a contributor who writes about health policy.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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