The United States is the largest sponsor of the WHO’s $4.8 billion annual budget, donating $400 million each year, or about 15% of the group’s budget.
Citing the organization’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus,” President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would withdraw funding for the World Health Organization while opening an investigation. The edict came as Trump battles his own allegations of grossly mishandling the U.S. response, leaving the body underfunded during the worst global pandemic in decades.
“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. 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,” Gates tweeted.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also criticized Trump’s decision, insisting now is the time for unity, not cutting health resources of an organization that conducts vaccine trials, distributes test kits and advises governments around the world.
“The World Health Organization, with thousands of its staff, is on the front lines, supporting Member States and their societies, especially the most vulnerable among them, with guidance, training, equipment and concrete life-saving services as they fight the virus,” Guterres said, calling WHO “absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-1.”
Evidence of the WHO’s missteps abound. The delegation appeared to cooperate with Beijing’s moves to downplay the severity of the outbreak, denying that COVID-19 was contagious in humans in a January 14 tweet, and rebuffing assistance from Taiwan because of its contested political status with China. The organization was also slow to declare the outbreak an emergency and criticized the U.S. for banning visitors from China, costing the rest of the world precious time.
“They could have been more forceful, especially in the initial stages in the crisis when there was a cover-up and there was inaction,” said Yanzhong Huang, a global health expert at Seton Hall University.
To date, 2 million people have contracted the coronavirus, with the U.S. as the global epicenter of the outbreak at more than 600,000 cases.
Others focused on the controversy say Trump’s decision is calculated to deflect from his own policy failures to contain the spread. The Trump administration failed to bolster diagnostic testing, stockpile equipment and supplies or prepare the health care system for a flood of sick, contagious patients. The president continued to downplay the disease as flu-like when WHO declared it a global health emergency, and didn’t declare a national emergency until March. He concluded Tuesday’s briefing without allowing his healthcare advisers to field any questions from the press.
“In the middle of a global pandemic, Trump wants to stop funding the preeminent organization in charge of combating global pandemics. Trump is willing to put global health further at risk to try to deflect blame from his own failures,” DNC Deputy War Room Director Daniel Wessel wrote in a statement. “But the American people know the truth: It was Trump who ignored warnings for months while he praised China’s ‘transparency.’ It is Trump who cut CDC staff in China who could have shared information about the pandemic. It is Trump’s incompetence that continues to make this crisis worse than it had to be.”
The White House administration had been considering cuts to WHO funding before the coronavirus became a pandemic. Their fiscal 2021 budget, released in mid-February, sought to slash the organization’s funding by more than half.