The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has responded to the decision by United States President Donald Trump to withdraw US funding to the agency at the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
President Trump announced his decision earlier this week, stating “I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the WHO while a review is conducted to assess the WHO’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” Trump alleged that the WHO “failed to adequately obtain and share information in a timely and transparent fashion” and “pushed China’s misinformation about the virus.” Whether Trump has the authority to do so unilaterally has been disputed.
Tedros in an address responded “we regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in funding to the World Health Organization. With support from the people and government of the United States, WHO works to improve the health of many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
He emphasised that the WHO is not solely focused on the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – commonly referred to as coronavirus – which causes the disease COVID-19. Tedros said “we’re also working to address polio, measles, malaria, Ebola, HIV, tuberculosis, malnutrition, cancer, diabetes, mental health and many other diseases and conditions. We also work with countries to strengthen health systems and improve access to life-saving health services.”
As for the Trump-led decision to withdraw the United States funding, Tedros affirmed that the WHO would be working to plug the gap. The United States ranks as the WHO’s largest single donor. “Our commitment to public health, science and to serving all the people of the world without fear or favour remains absolute,” Tedros asserted.
Trump’s decision to halt funding from the United States to the WHO was widely condemned. However, criticism has been expressed concerning the WHO’s handling of the crisis and Tedros in particular. Among the complaints are that the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and a pandemic were delayed – criticisms echoed by Trump. In addition, the relationship between the WHO and China has drawn criticism which led to a petition calling for Tedros’s resignation that amassed hundreds of thousands of signatures. The WHO has defended its response.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledged that “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.” Yet, he said, “now is not that time” and that “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.”