Head of World Health Organization Praises Donald Trump For Tapping Pence to Lead Coronavirus Response

In this country, President Donald Trump has been criticized for tapping Vice President Mike Pence to lead the Coronavirus Task Force, but the designation and his involvement in the response to the outbreak have earned him praise from the World Health Organization (WHO).

"These are the approaches we are saying are the right ones, and these are the approaches we are saying are going to mobilize the whole government," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.

America has started to see community transmission of the virus in Washington state's King County, and cases in the U.S. rose to 148 on Thursday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus has killed at least 11 people in the U.S., contributed to stock market plunges and made some people skeptical of traveling or attending social gatherings.

Under pressure to appoint a coronavirus czar, Trump in January created the Coronavirus Task Force, an advisory panel made up of various government officials, to manage America's response to the virus. He later put Pence at the task force's helm, a move that drew ire from those who question the vice president's past decisions and his ability to handle the current outbreak.

Ghebreyesus, however, said every country needs to escalate a coordinated response's leadership to the highest level of government, because the virus is going to "touch everything" in the country. If it's affecting politics, social fabrics and the economy, "no sector is immune," he said, and a quality response requires every aspect of government to be involved.

"Take it to a higher level. This is not just up to the ministry of health only," Ghebreyesus said. "That can be done by any country on earth."

donald trump mike pence praise who coronavirus
Vice President Mike Pence during a February 29 press conference on the coronavirus outbreak. The World Health Organization's director-general has praised President Donald Trump for putting Pence in charge of the response. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty

Through the work of the entire government, members of society can be mobilized to take responsibility for their actions and help prevent the virus from spreading, according to Ghebreyesus. If individuals join the response effort, "we can push back on the virus, we can be successful in the containment strategy."

During a press conference Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expressed concerns to Pence about his position, citing his response to the 2015 HIV/AIDS outbreak when he was governor of Indiana. Critics said Pence's delay in authorizing a needle exchange program allowed the virus to spread.

The vice president addressed that criticism during a briefing on Saturday, telling reporters that he permitted the needle exchange once the CDC made the recommendation. Seemingly trying to ease concerns, Pence named Debbie Birx, an internationally recognized HIV/AIDS expert, as the coronavirus response coordinator. The Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS praised the decision as a "wise one."

Pence has since announced the addition of eight members to the task force: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Kelvin Droegemeier, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie and Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma. This brings the total number of members, including Pence, to 22.

Besides applauding the U.S., Ghebreyesus praised Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Chinese President Xi Jinping for taking leadership roles in responding to the outbreak.

"No government, no country has an excuse, because each and every country has a government," Ghebreyesus said.