Trump suggests US will cut off funding for WHO
President Donald J. Trump criticized the WHO’s COVID-19 response at a press briefing on Tuesday, suggesting the organization “missed the call” and should have acted “months earlier” to prevent the spread of the virus. During the same briefing, Trump also implied that the United States may cut off its funding to the WHO — a move that could have deeper implications for the global pandemic response.
“We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO,” Trump said at the briefing. “We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see. It’s a great thing if it works, but when they call every shot wrong, that’s no good.”
Currently, WHO has raised more than $800 million in donations for its COVID-19 response fund, well above the organization’s original ask of $675 million. In addition to direct funding from government bodies, private companies including Microsoft, Spotify and Sony have contributed to the response. WHO has used some of this funding to send more than 2 million items of personal protective equipment to 133 countries, with plans to ship another 2 million items in the coming weeks.
“The WHO is already chronically underfunded, with only about one-quarter or less of the annual budget of the CDC, for example,” Peter J. Hotez, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told Healio. “It’s important to remember that the WHO does the heavy lifting for fighting COVID-19 in the world’s low- and middle-income nations. Now that COVID-19 is expected to race through urban centers throughout Asia, Latin America and Africa, we need WHO to be empowered more than ever.”
When asked about Trump’s criticism at a press briefing today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, encouraged all countries to work “across party lines” and avoid politicizing the virus.
“At the end of the day, the people belong to all political parties. The focus of all political parties should be to save their people,” Tedros said. “Please don’t politicize this virus — it exploits the differences you have at the national level. 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.”
At the White House briefing, Trump also mentioned WHO’s criticism of the U.S. travel ban implemented early on in the outbreak — a ban that was also widely criticized by infectious disease experts. The president then accused WHO of showing favoritism toward China.
“They actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it. And they were wrong,” Trump said. “They’ve been wrong about a lot of things. And they had a lot of information early. They’re very — they seem to be very China-centric. And we have to look into that.”
Hotez expressed concern about the larger impacts that may be felt if WHO funding decreases.
“I’m very worried about the global public health impact of COVID-19,” Hotez said. “As bad as things are in New York City and London, the magnitude of the problem may be much greater in the crowded urban areas of cities such as Sao Paulo, Delhi, Dhaka, Mumbai, Lagos and Kinshasa.”
“Please quarantine the politicizing of COVID-19,” Tedros said. “The unity of your country will be very important to defeat this dangerous virus. Without unity, we assure you, even a country that may have a better system will be in trouble.” – by Eamon Dreisbach
COVID-19 response fund. Supporters. https://covid19responsefund.org/supporters. Accessed April 8, 2020.
Disclosure: Hotez reports no relevant financial disclosures.