The head of the World Health Organization, Ethiopian microbiologist Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he has received death threats and racist insults while running the global efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
"I can tell you personal attacks that have been going on for more than two, three months. Abuses, or racist comments, giving me names, black or Negro. I'm proud of being black, proud of being Negro," he told reporters on a conference call from the organization's Geneva headquarters on Wednesday. "I don't care, to be honest ... even death threats. I don't give a damn."
Tedros was responding to a question about whether criticism from world leaders such as President Donald Trump in the midst of a global pandemic makes it more difficult to operate the WHO. Tedros commented specifically on insults that he said came from Taiwan.
"Three months ago, this attack came from Taiwan. We need to be honest. I will be straight today. From Taiwan," he said. "And Taiwan, the Foreign Ministry also, they know the campaign. They didn't disassociate themselves. They even started criticizing me in the middle of all that insult and slur, but I didn't care."
Taiwan, which is not a member of the United Nations, the governing body of the WHO, responded to Tedros' comments, calling them "baseless" and demanding an apology. Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen added on Facebook that "Taiwan has always opposed all forms of discrimination." She also invited Tedros to visit Taiwan.
"Dr. Tedros's unwarranted charges, made without any attempt at verification, are contrary to the facts and have caused serious damage to the government and people of Taiwan," Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. "Such slander is irresponsible, and the government of Taiwan demands that the Director-General immediately correct his trumped-up claims, issue a clarification, and apologize to the people of Taiwan."
Tedros also referenced remarks made by scientists on French TV that Tedros had condemned on Monday as artifacts of a "colonial mentality." The scientists were discussing the potential of moving a vaccine trial in Europe and Australia to Africa, according to the BBC. Tedros said Wednesday that the remarks insulted "the whole black community."
Tedros pleaded for world leaders and politicians to put aside differences and focus on the fight against the pandemic, which has now infected more than 1,452,378 people around the world and killed at least 83,615, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
"Please quarantine COVID politics. That's what we want. We don't care about personal attacks," he said. "We care about the life passing every single minute unnecessarily because we couldn't unite to fight this virus."