Several global leaders and the United Nations on Wednesday criticised United President Donald Trump’s decision to halt the funding of World Health Organization in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The US is the largest sponsor of the agency. The country had contributed $400 million (approximately Rs 3,040 crore) to the organisation last year – nearly 15% of its entire budget.
Trump accused the global body of mismanaging the health crisis. He said the organisation had promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak than otherwise would have occurred. “The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable,” he said.
China said it was “seriously concerned” about Trump’s decision to suspend all funding to WHO, and urged Washington to fulfill its obligations during the coronavirus crisis. “The current global epidemic situation is grim,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing, according to AFP. “It is at a critical moment. This US decision will weaken WHO’s capacities and undermine the international cooperation against the epidemic.”
Germany criticised the move and warned the United States against “blaming others” for the coronavirus crisis. “Blaming others won’t help,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter. “One of the best investments is to strengthen the United Nations [and] above all the under-financed WHO in the development and distribution of tests and vaccines.”
United States Democratic speaker of House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi blamed Trump for “ignoring warnings” about the pandemic and thus causing “unnecessary deaths.” “Now more than ever, we need the truth,” she tweeted shortly after Trump’s announcement. “And the truth is that Donald Trump dismantled the infrastructure handed to him which was meant to plan for and overcome a pandemic, resulting in unnecessary deaths and economic disaster.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that while he sympathised with Trump’s criticisms of the WHO, especially its “unfathomable” support to re-opening China’s “wet markets”, the important work done by the global body cannot be ignored.
“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 told an Australian radio station on Wednesday, according to Al Jazeera. “We are not going to throw the baby out of with the bathwater here, but they are also not immune from criticism and immune from doing things better.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her country will continue to support WHO in its endeavours. “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,” she said. “We will continue to support it and continue to make our contributions.”
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose philanthropic Gates Foundation is one of WHO’s biggest voluntary donors, criticised Trump’s decision. “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” he tweeted. “Their work is slowing the spread of Covid-19 and if that work is stopped no other organisation can replace them. The world needs WHO now more than ever.”
Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said Trump’s decision sends the “wrong message” amid a pandemic. “It’s not the middle of a pandemic that you do this type of thing,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the centre, according to Al Jazeera.
Adalja said that while the WHO does make mistakes and reforms might be needed, that work needs to happen after the pandemic has passed. WHO collects information about where the virus is active in every country in the world, which the United States needs to help guide decisions about when to open borders, he added.