The World Health Organization (WHO) is facing scrutiny as Congress launches an investigation into its pandemic prevention initiative, the Preparedness and Resilience for Emerging Threats (PRET).
The investigation comes after details emerged of the WHO’s plan to use “social listening surveillance systems” to monitor public speech for “misinformation.” Critics argue that unelected bodies should not have the power to suppress speech and potentially infringe on national sovereignty.
The PRET document describes “misinformation” as a “health threat.” It claims that disagreement with the WHO’s policies and recommendations are part of an “infodemic.”
“Infodemic is the overabundance of information – accurate or not – which makes it difficult for individuals to adopt behaviors that will protect their health and the health of their families and communities,” the document states.
“The infodemic can directly impact health, hamper the implementation of public health countermeasures, and undermine trust and social cohesiveness.”
The WHO’s PRET document recommends that governments, “Establish and invest in resources for social listening surveillance systems and capacities to identify concerns as well as rumors and misinformation.”
“To build trust, it’s important to be responsive to needs and concerns, to relay timely information, and to train leaders and HCWs in risk communications principles and encourage their application,” the WHO added. “Communication should be tailored to the community of interest, focusing on and prioritizing vulnerable groups. New tools and approaches for social listening have been developed using new technologies such as artificial intelligence to listen to population concerns on social media (such as the Platform EARS developed by WHO).”
According to UN agency documents, PRET aims to provide guidance to countries in pandemic planning by incorporating tools and approaches developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative defines “misinformation” as a “health threat” and part of a larger “infodemic” that hampers the adoption of behaviors to protect public health.
Critics of PRET point out that the WHO document fails to provide evidence supporting the claims about “misinformation” and “infodemics.” Nevertheless, the document advocates for invasive methods to counter this alleged issue, including the establishment of resources for social listening surveillance systems and the use of artificial intelligence technologies to monitor population concerns on social media.
The document also recommends testing these tactics during acute respiratory events, such as seasonal influenza, and suggests implementing infodemic management across sectors in coordination with academia, civil society, and international agencies.
The release of these documents has prompted calls from Republicans for an investigation into the WHO. Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) is leading a Congressional hearing on the WHO’s pandemic accord. Furthermore, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, representing Democrat President Joe Biden’s administration, recently met with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to discuss the accord and the role of the U.S. in global health security.
During the World Health Assembly, Dr. Tedros emphasized the urgency of delivering the pandemic accord on time, calling it a generational commitment and stating that “the next pandemic will not wait for us.”
Congressman Smith has expressed concerns about the Accord potentially undermining America’s sovereignty over its healthcare infrastructure. He highlights language in the zero draft of the accord that criticizes the international community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and notes that Article 4 of the treaty could allow the WHO to prescribe actions for each country.
During the hearing, Congressman Smith plans to question Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the contents of the zero draft and asserts that American sovereignty should not be surrendered to the WHO. He insists on protecting the voice of the American people and the consent of the governed from an agenda-driven global administrative bureaucracy.
Follow Kyle Becker on Twitter @kylenabecker.