Looking to the World Health Organization (WHO) for cues on how to combat the global health threat posed by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa amounts to “political correctness,” according to one GOP senator who is accusing President Obama of not doing enough to safeguard Americans from the virus. The comments ignore the fact that the real health crisis is unfolding abroad, not within U.S. borders.
“The President has said, ‘Well I’ll follow the guidelines of the World Health Organization.’ That’s what he said and you know the Word Health Organization is run by the United Nations, not the United States. It is much more of a political organization. And the President is trying to be politically correct,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) argued on a conference call hosted by the Iowa Republican Party on Wednesday.
Barrasso also suggested that, by depending on advice from WHO officials, Obama isn’t working to “protect and defend” the U.S. from Ebola. “The president of the United States, Members of Congress take an oath of office to protect and defend this country, the Constitution, and yet we don’t see that coming from the President who wants to depend on whatever the World Health Organization has to say,” he said.
WHO is a specialized agency within the UN that has focused on issues of international health since the 1940s. One of its major missions is disaster relief and responding to widespread public health emergencies. While some experts argue that WHO’s response to the Ebola epidemic has been hampered by recent budget cuts and staff reductions, there aren’t any doubts that the agency’s guidelines for containing the virus are sound.
But some far-right conservatives are wary of the United Nations, pushing the conspiracy theory that the international body is seeking to curtail the freedoms of the American people. Tea Party lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) claim that the UN wants to further global development by “eliminating national sovereignty.”
When it comes to Ebola, it’s impossible to separate the WHO’s work from the imperative to protect Americans here at home. Health experts agree that the best way to prevent more Ebola cases within the U.S. border is by stopping the outbreak at its source in the three Western African nations where it has become a serious crisis. Ebola has become such a big problem because the international community hasn’t invested enough in impoverished nations, whose weak health care infrastructures allow disease outbreaks to spiral out of control.
As Ebola has become a politicized issue here in the U.S., however, lawmakers like Barrasso have eschewed that logic in favor of painting the Obama administration as incompetent in the face of a crisis. They claim the White House is failing to implement policies to protect the American people, like banning travel from the affected Western African countries, even though the health experts working on the ground say that’s not the right approach.
Barrasso is also one of the growing number of GOP officials who has used Ebola to blame the president for his party’s own obstruction. The Wyoming senator recently called on Obama to appoint a “qualified” surgeon general to oversee the national response to Ebola — even though the reason we don’t currently have that position filled is because Republicans blocked the president’s nominee, Vivek Murthy, from being confirmed last year. That political fight arose after Murthy publicly expressed his opinion that gun violence is a public health problem, which is a common stance among medical professionals.