Italian prosecutors have alleged that a high-ranking World Health Organization (WHO) official lied to them about a spiked WHO report into Italy’s coronavirus response, the Associated Press reported Friday. They also revealed private communications Friday with potential to embarrass the United Nations health agency.
This follows the international scrutiny the WHO received for its report investigating the origins of COVID-19 inside China, whose authoritarian government was accused, among other things, of not providing full enough access to data for the WHO-led team of experts.
Prosecutors in the northern city of Bergamo placed Dr. Ranieri Guerra under investigation for allegedly making false statements to them when he was questioned in November, at the time serving as the WHO’s assistant director-general, according to the news outlet. Guerra was the U.N. agency’s intermediary with the Italian government after the country early last year became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe.
Prosecutors are looking into the massive COVID-19 death toll in Bergamo and whether the country’s unpreparedness entering the pandemic was a factor, according to the AP. Their investigation expanded to include the spiked WHO report into Italy’s COVID-19 response, which revealed that the Italian government hadn’t updated its pandemic preparedness plan since 2006. Guerra was a high-ranking Italian health ministry official during 2014 to 2017, when the plan should have been updated to comply with E.U. directives.
On May 14, the day after the report was published, the WHO removed it from its website and never reuploaded it, according to the AP. The report’s disappearance, the news outlet noted, suggested that the agency removed it to spare the Italian government criticism, embarrassment, and liability.
When asked at the time whether Guerra or the Italian government had intervened to spike the report, the WHO said it was taken down by its regional office in Copenhagen due to “factual inaccuracies,” according to the AP.
However, documentation gathered by the prosecutors—initially reported by the state-run RAI Report—indicated that Guerra maneuvered to have the report removed because the Italian government was upset with it, per the AP.
In one of the private WhatsApp chats between Guerra and Dr. Silvio Brusaferro included in the documentation, Guerra wrote on May 14, 2020 to the high-ranking Italian public health official: “In the end I went to Tedros and got the document removed,” referencing WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
According to the AP, the WHO press office—in an email to the news outlet on Friday—denied that Tedros was involved in spiking the report and insisted the decision-making about the report was done by the Copenhagen office.
“The Director-General was not involved himself in the development, publishing or withdrawal of the report,” the email reportedly said, reiterating that it was taken down because it “contained inaccuracies and inconsistencies” and had been published prematurely. Guerra, the email added, was no longer an assistant director-general but rather a “special adviser.”
Read the full original Associated Press report, here, to learn more about the story.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @DouglasPBraff.
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Mental health crisis spikes among Afghan women after Taliban regained control two years ago
The women of Afghanistan are suffering a mental health crisis since the Taliban regained power two years ago. According to a joint report from three U.N. agencies released Tuesday, approximately 70% of women experience feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression.
The numbers continue to rise, as there has already been a significant jump between April and June of this year alone, with an increase from 57% the preceding quarter.
The report, conducted by U.N. Women, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, interviewed women online, in-person and in group consultations as well as individual telesurveys.
592 Afghan women in 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces took part in the study. The Associated Press reports:
They have barred women from most areas of public life and work and banned girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade. They have prohibited Afghan women from working at local and non-governmental organizations. The ban was extended to employees of the United Nations in April.
Opportunities to study continued to shrink as community-based education by international organizations was banned and home-based schooling initiatives were regularly shut down by the de facto authorities — a term use by the U.N. for the Taliban government.
Afghanistan is the only country in the world with restrictions on female education and the rights of Afghan women and children are on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
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