Wednesday, May 29, 2024

WHO accuses Nigel Farage of spreading misinformation about pandemic treaty

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The World Health Organization has accused Nigel Farage of spreading misinformation after he launched a campaign to block an international treaty designed to improve global pandemic preparedness.

WHO member states are negotiating a deal to shore up cooperation against new pathogens. If adopted, the legally binding treaty would commit countries to helping each other in the event of a pandemic, increase research and sharing of data, and promote fair access to vaccines.

But populist figures including Farage and a number of Tory MPs are lobbying the UK government to block the deal, claiming that it will give the WHO power to enforce lockdowns on countries, dictate policy on mask wearing and control vaccine stocks.

Farage is fronting the campaign group Action on World Health (AWH), which was registered on Companies House last week.

The AWH’s website lists supporters including the Tory MPs Henry Smith, Philip Davies and David Jones, as well as peers and others. Companies House filings show that it has three directors including the barrister Paul Diamond, whose work has included high-profile cases on behalf of socially conservative Christians and cases where the use of vaccines has been disputed.

Visitors to the AWH’s site are helped to locate and lobby their MP using template “suggested text” emails that claim the WHO treaty will “strip away” the UK’s decision-making powers.

The potency of what some on the right view as a potential new “wedge issue” was underlined in contributions by Tory backbenchers such as Philip Hollobone, who echoed populist language by describing the WHO as being under the influence of “the global elite” and urging against the UK backing the treaty.

The UK health minister Andrew Stephenson urged MPs in parliament this week to dismiss what he described as myths being spread about the treaty, which the UK is considering whether or not to support.

Lockdown mandates are not part of the deal and a claim by Farage that the treaty would require countries to give away 20% of their vaccines was “simply not true”, said Stephenson.

His comments were echoed by the WHO directly. Responding to AWH’s claims, a spokesperson said a draft of the treaty reaffirmed “the principle of sovereignty” of member states.

“Claims that the draft agreement will cede sovereignty to WHO and will give the WHO secretariat power to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates on countries are false and have never been requested nor proposed. This agreement will not, and cannot, grant sovereignty to WHO.”

Farage, who denies that the campaign is sharing misinformation, claimed the UK government was “running scared” and that Conservative MPs had “suddenly been shouting” about the treaty on Wednesday.

“The governing party are very scared of me and of anything that would look like a surrender of sovereignty after Brexit. I’m trying to bring to the public’s attention something that is not being debated – that’s what I have done throughout my career – and I think we are getting traction already,” he said.

“This may not be a campaign with mass populist appeal but we can influence the government’s position when they get to Geneva in a couple of weeks time.

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European ambassadors who met at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday are understood to have voiced concern about misinformation of the type that the AWH has been accused of promoting.

A leading WHO envoy who was the face of the body in the UK during the pandemic said that he feared public health workers and policymakers were having to work in an increasingly difficult environment.

“We are being identified with particular behaviours as public health types and of doing things that we are not actually doing. It means that I fear that people who work in public health have become almost a despised community by certain groups and various organisations,” said David Nabarro, co-director and chair of global health at Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation.

Nabarro said: “What we are trying to do above all is to help people to avoid death and to avoid misery. There’s no effort by any of us to go for any kind of the political action we are being accused of and yet we do seem to have become seriously disliked.”

Other online campaigns targeting the WHO are already under way in the UK. Two of them – Say No To WHO and Save My Vape – are linked to an anti-EU pressure group run by Brian Monteith, a PR consultant and former Brexit party politician.

Negotiators from the WHO’s 194 member states had hoped to have a final draft agreement by Friday, with a view toward adopting the legally binding text at the World Health Assembly later this month.

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