By Madeleine Mankey
US President Donald Trump has announced the United States will freeze payments to the World Health Organisation over its “mismanagement” of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The US is the largest single funder of the UN agency, contributing more than $400 million in 2019.
Trump accused the organisation of failing in its “basic duty” in responding to the global pandemic, claiming the threat was “covered up” despite coronavirus being declared a “public health emergency” on January 30th.
President Trump has also criticised the WHO for not sharing information in a “timely manner”, adding that, “the delays the WHO experienced in declaring a public health emergency cost valuable time – tremendous amounts of time.”
New information released in technical guidance notes however, have proved that the US and other countries were warned as early as January 10th that human-to-human transmission was a serious risk.
Former head of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance at USAid condemned the accusations as “lunacy”, adding that the US spent the entire month of February doing nothing to prepare for the coming crisis.
Trump’s position towards China has also been confused, with his decrying of the WHO as “defend[ing] the actions of the Chinese government, even praising its so-called transparency” while on January 24th he himself praised China’s “efforts and transparency” in a tweet.
Cuts to WHO funding have been deemed “dangerous”, “damnable” and even a “crime against humanity” by leading health experts. Many world leaders have concurred that strengthening funding for the WHO is a key priority in this crisis, with Germany’s foreign minister calling it “the best investment to be made at this time.”
The WHO is yet to respond, but UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has commented:
“The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future. But now is not that time … 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.”
As the World Health Organisation provides the only lifeline to many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia Pacific, the scale of lives to be lost from this decision is frightening.
Trump’s next movements for the United States have been leaked, showing the lifting of lockdowns as early as May, despite warnings from health officials that this could lead to a surge in new infections.
It remains to be seen how the President’s actions during the global pandemic will affect support for his re-election campaign later this year.