A week after publicly criticizing the World Health Organization (WHO) and threatening to cut funding to the organization for mishandling the Covid-19 pandemic, US President Donald Trump delivers on his warning. The US is the largest contributor to the Organization; these funds account for about 22% of the Organization’s entire budget.
On April 14th, Trump announced that he was withholding funding to the WHO pending a “60 to 90 days” review of its response to the global coronavirus pandemic and its alleged bias towards China. The review would investigate, specifically, the “role [of the UN health agency] in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus. Everyone knows what’s going on there.”
However, Trump’s own response to the coronavirus has been strongly criticized by major media for being tardive, inadequate and chaotic. As it turned out, it wasn’t before mid-March that Trump acknowledged the gravity of the global pandemic. For months before that, he downplayed the situation, compared the novel coronavirus to a common flu, and claimed to have the situation “totally under control.” On March 11th, he announced: “I think we’re going to get through it very well.” So it is no surprise that many now see Trump’s retaliation against the UN as a way for distracting the public for his own blame.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on the same day, commented that this should be a time for unity in the global battle against Covid-19, and it is “also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.” Guterres then added, “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.” Indeed, the organization has been spearheading and coordinating global efforts to stop the crisis. Since December 31st 2019, the agency has been working non-stop to analyze data, provide advice, coordinate with partners, and help countries prepare for the outbreak.
While Trump’s investigation is pending, WHO is reviewing the impact that the withdrawal of US funds would have on its operations. The agency has started working to develop a plan to fill any resulting financial gaps in order to ensure that its activities can continue uninterrupted. “We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in funding to the World Health Organization,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Moreover, Tedros underlined the Organization’s commitment not only to serving the world’s people, but also to accountability for the use of its resources.
As for the measures taken by the WHO to halt the pandemic, Guterres noted that given the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, “it is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities. Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis.” Guterres acknowledged that the lessons learned from the WHO response to the pandemic will be essential to effectively address similar challenges in the future. “But now is not that time,” concluded the UN chief.
Reiterating his message of unity, Guterres stated in a video message addressing disinformation during the pandemic: “This is a time for science and solidarity.” There is a large amount of misinformation, harmful health advice, and snake-hole solutions circling around the internet, which are “a poison that is putting even more lives at risk.” “Together, let’s reject the lies and the nonsense out there,” stresses Guterres. This way, our communities will be strong enough to defeat COVID-19.