Washington's decision to halt US funding to WHO draws sharp criticism

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, April 15, 2020
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U.S. President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that his administration is halting the nation's funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), a move that experts said could exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic and cost more lives.

Speaking during a press briefing at the White House, Trump said a review is being conducted to assess the WHO's role in addressing the spread of the coronavirus.

"With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns about whether America's generosity has been put to the best use possible," Trump told reporters, also claiming that "the WHO failed to adequately obtain, vet, and share information in a timely and transparent fashion."

The announcement came as Trump is aggressively defending his own handling of the COVID-19 crisis after his administration has been increasingly scrutinized for downplaying the threat from the coronavirus early on and is being faulted for delays in testing.

Patrick Leahy, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, said that "Withholding funds for WHO in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century makes as much sense as cutting off ammunition to an ally as the enemy closes in."

"The White House knows that it grossly mishandled this crisis from the beginning, ignoring multiple warnings and squandering valuable time, dismissing medical science, comparing COVID-19 to the common cold," the Vermont Democrat said in a statement. "Not wanting to take responsibility as the deaths continue to mount, he blames others."

Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement that halting funding to the WHO is "a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier."

"Fighting a global pandemic requires international cooperation and reliance on science and data," Harris said. "Cutting funding to the WHO -- rather than focusing on solutions -- is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world."

According to a tally from Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday, the United States has reported more than 600,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 25,000 deaths, both the highest on record. Globally, the number of confirmed cases is approaching 2 million, as the death toll has reached over 126,000, the tally showed.

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations for international public health, which has played a crucial role in guiding the global efforts in combating the coronavirus pandemic. The United States contributed more than 400 million U.S. dollars to the agency in 2019, roughly 15 percent of its budget.

Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program and senior fellow for global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank, said Tuesday that the WHO "plays an irreplaceable role" in global outbreak response.

Bollyky tweeted that the WHO "has largely served its purpose well" in the COVID-19 crisis, urging Washington to seek to strengthen and enhance the agency's independence and effectiveness, not to "degrade it amid a crisis."

Lawrence Gostin, director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, called the White House's decision "disgraceful," warning that it would cause deaths and even blow back on the United States.

"How shortsighted when global coop needed more now than ever," Gostin said in series of tweets Tuesday, adding that Washington has "entirely abandoned" U.S. global health leadership.

It is noteworthy that Trump's tone toward the WHO differed sharply from one of his tweets on Feb. 24, several days before the United States reported the first death from COVID-19.

"The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA," Trump wrote. "We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart."

In an interview with CBS News Radio on Monday, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States, said the WHO "has been a very important public health partner with the CDC, and continues to be."

Redfield also noted that CDC staffers have been working "side-by-side" with the WHO, but added that he'd "leave the politics ... for others to try to resolve."

"We must quarantine politicizing this virus at national and global levels," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said from Geneva last week.

"We have to work together, and we have no time to waste," the director added.

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