President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced he would halt funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the US conducts a review to assess its role in what the president called “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
“With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible,” Trump said during a press conference at the White House’s Rose Garden.
“The reality is that the WHO failed to adequately obtain, vet, and share information in a timely and transparent fashion.”
“Everybody knows what’s going on there,” Trump added.
Despite numerous reports detailing how Trump was briefed on the severity of the coronavirus through January and February, Trump said WHO enabled China to conceal the true extent of the contagion.
The US contributes between US$400 million and $500 million per year to the organisation, according to the White House. China contributes about US$40 million a year.
“The outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death,” Trump said.
“This would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage. Instead, the WHO willingly took China’s assurances to face value, and they took it just at face value and defended the actions of the Chinese government, even praising China for its so-called transparency.”
Democrats assailed Trump for what they described as a rash move, and that the president was “looking to deflect blame for his own failures.”
“After he wasted weeks calling COVID-19 as harmless as the flu,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California said on Twitter, referring to Trump.
“International cooperation on public health has never been more critical. Freezing funding for the World Health Organisation will only make it worse.”
Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that the WHO “plays a unique role in terms of a global reach and has a mandate for coordinating the global response of all actors as well as serving as the primary enforcer of the International Health Regulations, which is central to tracking, isolating, and defeating a global pandemic.”
“Any attempt by the President to force United States health experts to work without the WHO would be counterproductive and lead to more suffering in the end,” Lowey added.
Trump threatened to cut the US’s funding to the organisation earlier this month after accusing the organisation of being too sympathetic toward China. WHO leaders downplayed Trump’s rhetoric at the time and said his tone was unnecessary amid the pandemic, according to Business Insider’s Hilary Brueck.
“No need to use COVID to score political points, no need,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“You have many other ways to prove yourselves. This is not the one to use for politics. It’s like playing with fire.”
“The focus of all political parties should be to save their people,” Tedros added. “If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”
At least one expert has said it’s unlikely that WHO is reliant on China, given the country’s limited contributions, and may have been merely trying to maintain a good relationship during a crisis.
In a January statement about the novel coronavirus, WHO requested that China “share full data on all cases” and “enhance rational public health measures for containment and mitigation.”
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