Medical Journal Disputes Trump’s Claim to WHO – But Misstates What He Said

By Patrick Goodenough | May 20, 2020 | 5:47am EDT

( – A leading medical journal on Tuesday took issue with President Trump for citing its research in a letter to the World Health Organization – but evidently misinterpreted what Trump had written.

In his letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom, Trump called for major reforms, failing which the organization would lose U.S. funding permanently, he warned, and the U.S. could even withdraw altogether.

Outlining his concerns about WHO’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, Trump wrote that WHO “consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from the Lancet medical journal.”

The Lancet in a statement Tuesday called Trump’s comment “factually incorrect,” and added that it had “published no report in December, 2019, referring to a virus or outbreak in Wuhan or anywhere else in China.”

Trump did not, however, say the relevant reports in The Lancet had been published in December.

In referring to December, he was clearly speaking about the month during which the coronavirus was spreading in Wuhan – according to credible reports, including those published in The Lancet.

On January 24, The Lancet published a paper by two dozen Chinese experts – including the deputy director of Wuhan’s Jinyintan Hospital – who wrote among other things that “the symptom onset date of the first patient identified was Dec 1, 2019.”

The date is significant, because it was three weeks earlier that the date given by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (December 21) as the start of the first cluster of cases in Wuhan.

December 1 was also a full month before Chinese health authorities reported the outbreak to the WHO on December 31. Countries are obliged under the International Health Regulations to inform WHO “within 24 hours” of any public health event that could have serious and international consequences.

A second paper published in The Lancet, also on January 24, referred to the onset of symptoms in the first case of the “Wuhan pneumonia” taking place on December 12.

In his letter to Tedros, Trump wrote that the WHO had ignored reports about the virus spreading in the Chinese city “in early December 2019 or even earlier.”

The “even earlier” reference could point to Chinese government data, leaked later to a Hong Kong newspaper, that indicated a first case may have occurred as early as November 17.

In its statement Tuesday, The Lancet wrote, “The allegations levelled against WHO in President Trump’s letter are serious and damaging to efforts to strengthen international cooperation to control this pandemic.”

“It is essential that any review of the global response is based on a factually accurate account of what took place in December and January.”

In addition to issuing the statement, the journal’s editor, Richard Horton, tweeted, “Dear President Trump – You cite The Lancet in your attack on WHO. Please let me correct the record. The Lancet did not publish any report in early December, 2019, about a virus spreading in Wuhan. The first reports we published were from Chinese scientists on Jan 24, 2020.”

Queries sent to the publication about its apparent misstating of Trump’s claim brought no response by press time.

The Lancet is a prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal, but its editorial columns have not shied away from political controversy during the pandemic, with criticism directed in particular and the U.S. and British governments’ responses.

An unsigned April 18 editorial described Trump’s leadership as “volatile” and “incompetent.”

“The degree to which the USA stalled in taking aggressive action to curtail the spread of COVID-19 is directly the product of an administration marked by consistently poor timing, intent on making decisions in favor of economic interests instead of those that are guided by science and to protect health,” it said. “The rush to reopen the country puts dollars over deaths.”

An April 23 editorial, signed by Horton, defended the WHO against Trump’s allegations, although it did allow that there were “legitimate questions” about Chinese authorities’ actions and reporting in December and January.

Horton in that column called Trump’s decision to suspend funding to the WHO “a crime against humanity” and “a knowing and inhumane attack against the global civilian population.”

Last week, another unsigned editorial accused Trump of undermining the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and ended by implicitly calling on U.S. voters to remove Trump in November.

“Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics,” it concluded.

MRC Store