Donald Trump’s decision to halt WHO funding amid Covid-19 pandemic criticized by world leaders

Trump’s move was widely seen as an effort to deflect mounting criticism of his administration’s handling of the outbreak as Coronavirus deaths rose by 2,228 in a single-day record on Tuesday.
US President Donald Trump(Reuters photo)
US President Donald Trump(Reuters photo)
Updated on Apr 15, 2020 11:54 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Washington/New Delhi | ByRezaul H Laskar and Yashwant Raj

US President Donald Trump has announced he will halt funding for the WHO for “severely mismanaging” the Covid-19 crisis, prompting the Indian government to say on Wednesday the world community’s focus should remain on the pandemic.

Trump’s move was widely seen as an effort to deflect mounting criticism of his administration’s handling of the outbreak as coronavirus deaths rose by 2,228 in a single-day record on Tuesday. Nearly 26,000 people have died and 608,377 have been infected in the US.

At his daily briefing, Trump announced the suspension of US funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), ranging between $400 million and $500 million a year, for a period of 60 to 90 days.

“Today I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organisation while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organisation’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the Coronavirus,” he said.

Trump, who has repeatedly accused the WHO of toeing China’s line, noted Beijing “contributes roughly $40 million a year and even less”. He added: “As the organisation’s leading sponsor, the US has a duty to insist on full accountability.”

He further said: “One of the most dangerous and costly decisions from the WHO was its disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations…Fortunately, I was not convinced and suspended travel from China, saving untold numbers of lives.”

It was not clear when the halt in US payments will take effect or whether Trump can unilaterally suspend payments, which are authorised by the Congress. The US contributed $893 million to the WHO for its two-year budget of $5.8 billion for 2020-21.

The WHO’s two-year budget includes member dues and voluntary contributions from countries and non-profit organisations. Member dues are based on a country’s wealth and population. For 2020-21, the US accounted for almost 25% of member dues, followed by China, Japan and Germany.

The Indian government reacted cautiously to Trump’s decision, with people familiar with developments saying the focus of global efforts should remain on overcoming the pandemic.

“At present, our efforts and attention are fully focused on dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the world has addressed this crisis, we can revisit this question [of funding for the WHO],” one of the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while participating in a virtual summit of G20 leaders last month, had called for reform of the WHO, which was based on the “last century’s models” and hadn’t adapted to deal with new challenges.

The move was criticised by world leaders, and UN chief Antonio Guterres said this was “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations” of the WHO.

Guterres said in a statement the need of the hour is unity in the global battle against Covid-19. “It is my belief that the WHO must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19,” he said.

Acknowledging the need to review actions of different entities in responding to the Coronavirus, Guterres said this can be done after overcoming the epidemic “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”.

He added, “The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future. But now is not that time.”

German foreign minister Heiko Maas tweeted: “Blaming does not help. The virus knows no borders…One of the best investments is the @UN, especially the underfunded @WHO, to strengthen…the development and distribution of tests and vaccines.”

Trump’s criticism of the WHO runs counter to his own praise for the world body and China. “CDC (Centers of Disease Control and Prevention) & World Health have been working hard and very smart,” he tweeted in February.

The US president has severed or scaled down ties with several world bodies – the Paris Accord on climate change (2017), Unesco (2017) and UNHCR (2018). He has also complained about US contributions to bodies such as the UN.

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