One day after President Trump announced that the US will stop funding the World Health Organisation (WHO), its Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says he “regrets the decision” and calls again for global solidarity.
While Dr. Ghebreyesus held firm to his track record of tactfully reminding everyone of the importance of working together through the outbreak, others were much more vocal in their criticism. President Trump’s decision has been called “dangerous, short-sighted”, “politically motivated”, and “a typically petulant act”. I daresay I agree.
WHO’s the bad guy here?
“We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in funding to the World Health Organization,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing Wednesday. “With support from the people and government of the United States, WHO works to improve the health of many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
Dr. Ghebreyesus called again for global unity and continued focus on saving lives and fighting the common enemy, COVID-19, during the briefing.
The WHO was formed in the 1940s by the United Nations and supported by its member states, and received around 15% of all its funding from the US (a permanent member on the UN’s Security Council). After accusing it of “severely mismanaging” the outbreak, however, President Trump announced he will halt the funding until his administration has had a chance to review its response.
It is still currently unclear how this massive cut (one-sixth of all its resources) will impact the WHO, which is guiding the global response against COVID-19 while also fighting polio, measles, malaria, Ebola, HIV, tuberculosis, malnutrition, cancer, diabetes, mental health, and many other diseases and conditions, while further helping shore up national health systems and improve on their capabilities.
For context, here are the disease-combating efforts that the Trump administration is having a net positive effect on:
In his briefing, Dr. Tedros explained that the WHO is currently reviewing its budget and plans to work with its remaining partners to keep the body going as efficiently as possible. Furthermore, he noted that member states and independent bodies will review the WHO’s response to the pandemic “in due course,” as they have done after every major health event.
“No doubt, areas for improvement will be identified and there will be lessons for all of us to learn,” he said. “But for now, our focus—my focus—is on stopping this virus and saving lives. This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat—a dangerous enemy. When we are divided, the virus exploits the cracks between us.”
People are criticizing this
I can’t shake the feeling that I’m watching a kid play at President — only it’s a spoiled kid, prone to episodes of Cartmanesque “I’m going home” mentality whenever something doesn’t go exactly his way.
Dr. Tedros himself has long asked politicians, the public, and the media to not “politicize COVID,” which would hurt our efforts to combat it. And he’s not shy about stating exactly why that fight is important.
“Please quarantine politicizing COVID,” he said in an April 8 press conference when asked about Trump’s previous criticism of the organization. “We will have many body bags in front of us if we don’t behave. When there are cracks at national level and global level that’s when the virus succeeds.”
“For God’s sake, we have lost more than 60,000 citizens of the world.“
Since April 8th, that figure has more than doubled, and there are now over 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The US is now the worst affected country with more than 632,000 cases and nearly 28,000 deaths.
Amid that backdrop, Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, distanced himself from the decision, telling Good Morning America in an interview that the “CDC and WHO has had a long history of working together in multiple outbreaks throughout the world, as we continue to do in this one. And so, we’ve had a very productive public health relationship. We continue to have that.” There will be time to look at what happened with this outbreak, but only “once we get through it together.”
Both Bill and Melinda Gates tweeted warnings that this move is especially dangerous during a global health crisis.
Other experts are further weighing in on the decision, and they’re not happy at all about what they’re seeing. A simple google search will yield ample responses from individuals and institutions from around the world, but I’ll leave you with some of the more powerful ones I’ve found on The Science Media Center.
Prof Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University:
“The freeze on funding for WHO by the US government is a typically petulant act against an international organization that has sought to maintain its integrity and impartiality rather than to bow to President Trump’s transient and volatile prejudices.”
Dr. Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine:
“Halting funding to the WHO is a dangerous, short-sighted, and politically motivated decision, with potential public health consequences for all countries in the world, whether they are rich or poor.”
Dr. Gail Carson, director of Network Development at ISARIC (International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium) at the University of Oxford:
“Let’s hope President Trump and the review team realize quickly that now is not the time for division and potentially weakening the UN authority on health who are busy coordinating the global response to the pandemic. Look at facts, and there is plenty of evidence of all the good WHO has done during this pandemic.”
Joshua Moon, a senior research fellow at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex Business School:
“To see Trump threatening to pull funding from WHO in the middle of a pandemic is truly heartbreaking. The WHO has received so much criticism in the past decade surrounding its role in various public health emergencies. I have been one of those critics myself. However, this attack on WHO is a purely political move designed to distract and pander to Trump’s base.”
“At its core: the loss of US funding for WHO is a huge problem that will impact the response to COVID-19 globally, invite new and potentially unaccountable actors into the position of power that the US previous held, and is a contemptible falsehood being peddled by a politician who in my opinion is trying to hide his own mistakes from his supporters.”
Stephen Griffin, a medical professor, and expert at viral diseases at the University of Leeds:
“This most recent intervention in public health policy by President Trump is perhaps one of the least productive, most short-sighted, self-motivated, and hypocritical acts I have ever witnessed. As far as I can ascertain, it has no foundation in reality. The situation in the US and the world over amounts to a crisis, and one in which we must stand together. WHO is perhaps one of the best means of achieving this and deserves the support and respect of all countries.”
I agree with each and every one of them. The WHO definitely isn’t perfect, but it has always been committed to improving itself and learning from its shortcomings, as evidenced by their openness to reviews from member states. The WHO is perhaps the single greatest tool we have against the current pandemic. There aren’t enough votes in the whole USA to wash away the deaths it can prevent, Mr. President.