President Donald Trump announced yesterday (April 14) that he is halting funding for the World Health Organization, pending a formal review of the global body’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, reports STAT.
“America and the world have chosen to rely on the WHO for accurate, timely, and independent information to make important public health recommendations and decisions,” Trump said in prepared remarks, according to STAT. “If we cannot trust that this is what we will receive from the WHO, our country will be forced to find other ways to work with other nations to achieve public health goals.”
Devi Sridhar, a global health expert at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, tells Science, “This is a short-sighted decision which will be disastrous for the agency. We need the WHO more than ever to support all countries, especially low and middle income ones.”
Trump said in his speech that the global health agency is responsible for “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” reports Science. The President criticized the WHO for failing to investigate early credible reports of the coronavirus out of Wuhan, China, according to The Guardian, and told reporters on Tuesday, “Through the middle of January, it parroted and publicly endorsed the idea that there was not human to human transmission happening, despite reports and clear evidence to the contrary.”
His criticism conflicts with the fact that the WHO warned the US and other countries as early as January 10 that there was a risk of human-to-human transmission.
Trump also called the WHO’s decision to oppose travel bans “disastrous,” and claimed that his February 2 prohibition on foreign nationals from China entering the US has saved “thousands and thousands of lives,” reports Science.
Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, tells Science that Trump’s decision “leaves the U.S. and the world less safe” and is “a transparent attempt to shift blame for the U.S. administration’s own failings.”
The WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, tweeted this morning, “The WHO’s singular focus is on working to serve all people to save lives and stop the COVID19 pandemic.”
The US was the WHO’s largest single donor in the agency’s 2018–2019 budget cycle, contributing nearly $900 million of the $5.6 billion budget, reports Science.
Bill Gates, whose foundation also funds the WHO, said in a tweet today that Trump’s move was “as dangerous as it sounds.”
O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law director Lawrence Gostin warns in remarks to Science, “If WHO is ensnared in a political and funding crisis, it simply won't be able to provide the leadership that is so urgently needed in this unique time in human history.”
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the United States is now the country with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases—610,774 as of today.