The United States will stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO) because it has “failed in its basic duty” in response to the coronavirus outbreak, US President Donald Trump said, also announcing a review to cover the WHO’s role in “covering up” the spread of the virus.
Trump’s announcement comes in the middle of the worst global pandemic in decades and while he angrily defends his own handling of the outbreak in the United States. He has sought to deflect persistent criticism that he acted too slowly to stop the virus’s spread by pointing to his decision in late January to place restrictions on travel.
“I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump told a news conference. The US channels $400 million to $500 million to the WHO each year.
Founded in 1948 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the WHO is the UN agency responsible for global public health. It has 194 member states, and aims to “promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.” It is involved in vaccination campaigns, health emergencies, and supporting countries in primary care.
Trump’s decision follows the pattern of skepticism leveled at world organizations that began well before the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has questioned US funding to the United Nations, withdrawn from global climate agreements, and lambasted the World Trade Organization — claiming all were ripping off the US.
“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. The US has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide, with more than 600,000 cases and 26,000 deaths.
The WHO is yet to directly respond but UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the international community should be uniting in solidarity to stop this virus. “It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19,” he said
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that while the WHO and China “made mistakes,” Trump is also looking to deflect blame from his own administration. There’s “a very coordinated effort amongst the White House and their allies to try to find scapegoats,” he added.
It is not the first time the WHO’s response to the outbreak has come under scrutiny. On 14 January, the organization tweeted that preliminary Chinese investigations had found “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the new virus. Trump and others have used the tweet to attack the WHO for simply believing China.
At the end of January, on the same day it declared a public health emergency, the WHO said that travel restrictions were not needed to stop the spread of Covid-19 — advice that was eventually ignored by most countries, including by the Trump administration the next day.