Skip to content

Leaders decry Trump cuts to WHO funding

World leaders and public health authorities denounced U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to halt funding for the World Health Organization.

WASHINGTON (AN) — World leaders and public health authorities on Wednesday denounced U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to halt funding for the World Health Organization just as it coordinates global efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic.The European Union said Trump has no reason to freeze payments to WHO while half the world is locked down fighting the virus. European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell said the 27-nation bloc's leaders “deeply regret" Trump's move to suspend WHO's funding.

"There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain and mitigate the coronavirus pandemic," said Borrell, E.U.'s foreign policy chief. "Only by joining forces we can overcome this crisis that knows no borders."

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said "placing blame doesn't help" to stop the spread of the virus.

“The virus knows no borders," he said of Trump's decision. "We must work closely against COVID-19. Strengthening the U.N., in particular the underfunded WHO, is a better investment, for example, to develop and distribute tests and vaccines.”

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his nation will continue to support WHO despite sharing some of Trump's viewpoint toward the U.N. health agency. "We work closely with them so that we're not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here,” Morrison told Perth Radio 6PR. “But they’re also not immune from criticism.”

At a White House press briefing a day earlier, Trump said he would halt all further payments to WHO while his administration spends 60 to 90 days reviewing the U.N. health agency's role in "severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus."

Trump said he was cutting off U.S. payments to WHO for failing to do enough to stop the virus from spreading when it was first detected in Wuhan, China last last year.

“The outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death, very little death, and certainly very little death by comparison. This would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage,” Trump asserted.

Trump has repeatedly insisted on calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” to emphasize its origin. Tensions between Washington and Beijing, already high from the trade war, have risen still further over the virus. Both side accuse the other of playing global politics.

“The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said. “This is an evaluation period, but in the meantime, we’re putting a hold on all funds going to World Health."

WHO relies mainly on contributions from 194 member nations and private organizations. About 20% of its budget comes from mandatory dues; the rest comes from voluntary donations from other international organizations and philanthropic foundations, along with private sector and partner donations.

The United States, United Kingdom, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are the top supporters. U.S. contributions come to US$450 million a year — US$115 million is in mandatory dues — towards WHO's more than US$4 billion budget, according to WHO budget figures.

"Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds," Melinda Gates said. "Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19, and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs WHO now more than ever."

Winning the 'war' on COVID-19

As the top financial contributor to the United Nations, the United States pays 22% of the world body's operating costs and a quarter of its peacekeeping. Trump proposed huge cuts for international organizations including 53% less for WHO and 75% less for the Pan American Health Organization, which gets most of its support from Brazil.

On March 25, WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised the Trump administration for doing a "great job" responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, despite its slow and confused reaction to the pandemic. The United States now has more than 600,000 confirmed cases and 26,000 reported deaths, the most of any nation.

Two weeks later, Tedros began to push back as Trump made clear he was scapegoating WHO and threatening budget cuts. Trump assailed WHO for being “China-centric” and claimed it had criticized his ban on travelers arriving in the U.S. from China.

“Please don’t politicize this virus. It exploits the differences you have at the national level,” Tedros told a news briefing last week. “If you want to be exploited, and if you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”

Trump has not been alone in his criticism of the U.N. health agency, which has seemed to take in stride China’s reported infections and deaths. Other governments, particularly in Europe, also questioned WHO’s recommendations on travel restrictions and face masks.

WHO repeatedly warned about the emergence of the virus, though it bore some criticism for waiting until March 11 to declare COVID-19 as a global pandemic — the worldwide spread of a new disease —  marking the first time a coronavirus had that distinction.

In late January, Trump praised China as the virus outbreak was spreading. “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” he tweeted. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well."

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said WHO is on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic, and now is not the time for its biggest financial contributor to halt funding. “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.

The American Medical Association called on Trump to restore WHO's funding.“During the worst public health crisis in a century, halting funding to the World Health Organization is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier,” AMA President Patrice Harris said. “Cutting funding to the WHO rather than focusing on solutions is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world."