After saying there was no evidence that cloth face masks could help prevent the spread of Covid-19, the WHO has done an about-face on the issue, drawing criticism from a respiratory doctor in Thailand.
Dr. Manoon Leechawengwong’s criticism came as the WHO additionally withdrew a claim that transmission of the virus by asymptomatic carriers is very rare. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, who made the original assertion at a WHO briefing, has now renigged her statement, saying her remarks were a misunderstanding and not representative of WHO policy.
The WHO’s new advice on the wearing of face masks, including cloth ones, comes after many countries (primarily Asian ones) were already adopting the practice for months. The Thai Public Health Ministry and Infectious Disease Association is no stranger to butting heads with the WHO as it most recently disagreed with the Thai government over spraying disinfectant to control the spread of Covid-19. The WHO called the practice a danger to public health and the environment.
Dr. Manoon recalls another encounter he had with the organisation over 20 years ago, when they criticised his view on testing for drug sensitivity in tuberculosis patients-and then did an about-face.
“Back in 1997, the World Health Organisation stated that examining tuberculosis drug sensitivity in developing countries is useless and wasteful. I contested that position in 1998, saying Thailand needs to check. Not knowing the patient’s sensitivity to a drug may mean the doctor can’t use it, because otherwise the germ targeted could become more resistant and continue to spread to others. WHO representatives in Thailand at that time said my advice was irresponsible, pulling money from others’ budgets.”
Dr. Manoon went on to conduct his own research to help with tuberculosis treatment in government hospitals. In the end, the WHO changed its policy to recommend that all countries carry out drug sensitivity tests before administering treatment. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal took note of its about-face and slammed the organisation.
Now, Dr. Manoon says WHO members need to be prepared to listen to different viewpoints on disease prevention.
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