Americans Being Left Out of WHO Trip to Wuhan Draws Criticism From Trump–Here's Who Did Go

Only three non-Chinese experts on the WHO-China Joint Mission visited Wuhan in February and none of them were American, a point of contention for President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, Trump sent a letter to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, informing him that he was considering a permanent freeze of funding to the WHO. In the letter, Trump highlighted a number of grievances he had with WHO's response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, including the fact Americans didn't visit Wuhan, the Chinese city where SARS-CoV-2 originated.

"Remarkably, the World Health Organization was silent when China denied the two American members of the team access to Wuhan entirely," Trump wrote in the letter.

The team Trump was referencing was the WHO-China Joint Mission, a group of 25 experts from eight countries, including China, and the WHO. They spent nine days in China–from February 16 to 24–to learn more about the outbreak and evaluate containment measures so they could make recommendations to China and the rest of the world.

Two of those nine days–February 22 and February 23–were spent in Wuhan, according to the joint mission's report. WHO told Newsweek that Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the director-general of WHO, Chikwe Ihekweazu, director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, and Tim Eckmanns, of the Robert Koch Institute, were the three international team members who went to Wuhan.

"It would have been logistically difficult for a large group to go," Clifford Lane, the clinical director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told Newsweek. "While I was disappointed about not being able to go we received a very good briefing from the team that went."

trump who criticism wuhan
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with restaurant executives in the State Dining Room of the White House on Monday, in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, Trump sent a letter to the WHO director-general criticizing the organization for not allowing Americans into Wuhan in February. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

Lane was one of two Americans on the joint mission and directed questions about the decision of who went to Wuhan to the WHO. It's unclear who made the decision and Newsweek reached out to the WHO for comment on the decision-making process but did not receive a response in time for publication.

All team members visited sites in Beijing but were then broken up into two teams. The Sichuan team traveled to the Chinese city of Chengdu and the Guangdong team ventured to the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, according to the report. Site visits included a wet market, hospitals and medical centers, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the respective provinces.

Lane was on the Guangdong team and he told Newsweek Weigong Zhou, a medical officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the second American on the mission, was on the Sichuan team.

Those who went to Wuhan visited the Guanggu Campus of Wuhan Tongji Hospital and the Mobile Cabin Hospital in the Wuhan Sports Center.

Both teams reconvened on February 21 to start analyzing major findings and a report was finalized on February 24. Based on the Joint Mission's review of national and local governmental reports, discussions with national and local experts and response teams and observations made during site visits, the Joint Mission determined China "rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history."

"China's bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic," the report stated.

China initially rejected at least three offers from America to send scientists to the then-epicenter of the outbreak, the first being made on January 6, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. However, after a conversation between Ghebereyesus and Chinese President Xi Jinping on January 28, the two reached an agreement to allow international experts to help investigate the situation.

In his letter to Ghebereyesus, Trump criticized the director-general for failing to press China for the "timely admittance" of an international team of experts to China.

When asked during a February press conference why it took so long for international experts to arrive in China, Aylward responded that it takes "a long time to put a team like that together." But, once it got moving, "It moved quickly."