DILI, 25 MARCH 2020
It is with considerable disappointment and displeasure that I feel compelled to make this statement today on behalf of the United Nations System in Timor-Leste.
Since the middle of January this year, my colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO), together with other UN agencies and others, have been working closely with the Ministry of Health and other parts of government, to help Timor-Leste prepare for and respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The Head of WHO in Timor-Leste, Dr Rajesh Pandav and his team, together with others, have been working virtually all hours of the day on a seven-days a week basis, with great professionalism, dedication and determination despite many challenges.
It is distressing therefore to see and hear a senior public official publicly stating on national Television yesterday evening that: ”…he is not happy with the WHO …they are not helping the government to fight COVID-19 …”. The statement made by PNTL Operational Commander is factually incorrect, shows a lack of understanding of the role of the WHO and is highly irresponsible.
It is factually incorrect because as the Prime Minister, Ministry of Health officials, Parliamentarians and many other leaders have all publicly acknowledged the significant contribution of the WHO in helping Timor-Leste prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement by the PNTL Commander also shows a poor understanding of the role of the WHO – which is a specialist agency of the United Nations primarily here to advise, support and assist the Government of Timor-Leste on all health issues. It is irresponsible because as a public official, making such a statement can not only undermine public confidence in the work of the Government of Timor-Leste and the WHO, which is recognized as a highly respected global institution, but also puts peoples’ lives in danger because as a result of listening to such misinformation, some people may be inclined to stop listening to the advice given by qualified professionals and possibly also respond with threats and abuse to WHO and UN staff.
Ultimately it is for the government of Timor-Leste and its Ministry of Health to implement the measures for responding to the COVID-19 emergency. WHO and the UN supplement and support this response but DO NOT substitute it.
Roy Trivedy, UN Resident Coordinator to Timor-Leste