US President Donald Trump has instructed his administration to temporarily halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump said the WHO “failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable”. He said it promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400m in 2019, roughly 15 percent of its budget.
Reaction to Trump’s move was fast and furious worldwide.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Tedros, the director-general of the global health agency, said he regrets Trump’s decision to
halt funding of the UN body.
“This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat,” Tedros told a press conference in Geneva.
“When we are divided, the coronavirus exploits the cracks between us,” he warned. The WHO will review the impact of the funding gap and will continue its work “without fear or favour,” Tedros added.
Earlier, he had written on Twitter: “There is no time to waste. WHO’s singular focus is on working to serve all people to save lives and stop the COVID-19 pandemic.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
This is “not the time” to reduce resources for WHO operations, Guterres said.
“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” he said.
Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security
“The move sends the wrong message during the middle of a pandemic, said Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the centre.
Adalja said the WHO does make mistakes, as it did in delaying the response to the Ebola outbreak in 2013 and 2014 in West Africa. He said reforms might be needed, but that work needs to take place after the pandemic has passed.
“It’s not the middle of a pandemic that you do this type of thing,” he said.
Adalja said the WHO collects information about where the virus is active in every county in the world, which the United States needs to help guide decisions about when to open borders.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell
Borrell said the 27-nation bloc “deeply” regrets the suspension of funds and added that the U.N. health agency is now “needed more than ever” to combat the pandemic.
“Only by joining forces can we overcome this crisis that knows no borders,” he said.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Directed requests for comment to the White House.
American Medical Association
AMA President Patrice Harris called it “a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier” and urged Trump to reconsider.
Protect Our Care
“This is nothing more than a transparent attempt by President Trump to distract from his history downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis and his administration’s failure to prepare our nation,” said Chair Leslie Dach, who served as the global Ebola coordinator for the US Department of Health and Human Services.
“To be sure, the World Health Organization is not without fault but it is beyond irresponsible to cut its funding at the height of a global pandemic. This move will undoubtedly make Americans less safe.”
African Union head Moussa Faki Mahamat
Faki Mahamat termed the decision “deeply regrettable” and said the world had a “collective responsibility” to help WHO during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
“This virus doesn’t need passports. In a few short months it has travelled to all of the continents of the world except Antarctica. If there were ever an event that showed us how we need to work tougher as a global community, this is it,” said Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert.
Central African Republic Health Minister Pierre Somse
Somse, CAR’S health minister, said Trump’s move was “a regrettable decision that will have harmful effects on the functioning of the WHO and on world health, because the WHO supports many countries in the health sector.”
Chairman, US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee
“With each passing day of this worsening crisis, the president is showing us his political playbook: Blame the WHO, blame China, blame his political opponents, blame his predecessors – do whatever it takes to deflect from the fact that his administration mismanaged this crisis and it’s now costing thousands of American lives,” Democratic representative Eliot Engel.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
“At a time like this when we need to be sharing information and we need to have advice we can rely on, the WHO has provided that. We will continue to support it and continue to make our contributions,” Ardern said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov
“We see yesterday’s announcement by Washington on freezing funding of the WHO as most concerning. It is a sign of the very selfish approach of the US authorities to what is happening in the world due to the pandemic,” deputy foreign minister Ryabkov told state news agency TASS.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Morrison said he sympathised with Trump’s criticisms of the WHO, especially its support of reopening China’s “wet markets” where freshly slaughtered animals are sold and where the outbreak first appeared in the city of Wuhan late last year.
“But that said, the WHO also as an organisation does a lot of important work including here in our region in the Pacific and we work closely with them,” Morrison said.
“We are not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, but they are also not immune from criticism and immune from doing things better.”