On 14 April, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he was halting funding for the World Health Organization following a review of its conduct concerning its response to the coronavirus.
Trump gave several reasons for suspending funding for the WHO, including, among other things, to,
“assess the [WHO] role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus. Everybody knows what’s going on there. …. One of the most dangerous and costly decisions from the WHO was it’s disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations. They were very much opposed to what we did. The WHO’s attack on travel restrictions put political correctness above life-saving measures. The world depends on the WHO to work with countries to ensure accurate information about international health threats is shared in a timely manner. And if it’s not, to independently tell the world the truth about what is happening. The WHO failed in the basic duty and must be held accountable.”
In the fiscal year of 2018, the U.S. contributed voluntarily almost $400 million to the WHO, making the U.S. the largest contributor to the WHO, while over a two-year cycle from 2018-2019 the U.S. gave $893 million to the WHO, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation giving the second most.
Since January, the WHO has been working with China, along with the rest of the world, in order to better understand COVID-19 and to contain the virus, as a timeline on their website states. According to the site, the WHO declared COVID-19 a “public health emergency” at the end of January, and urged countries to contribute $675 million to a fund to help vulnerable countries deal with the pandemic.
A main concern that Trump has had with the WHO’s response seems to be its unwillingness to endorse the travel restrictions that the U.S. had implemented from China on 31 January. On 23 January, the WHO tweeted that “For the moment, WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade. We recommend exit screening at airports as part of a comprehensive set of containment measures” and after declaring COVID-19 a public health emergency on 30 January, tweeted the “There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with intl. travel & trade.” By 29 February, the WHO had advised against international travel, though it is unclear exactly when that recommendation had first been suggested.
Trump has mentioned several times how dangerous it is for the WHO to be praising China’s response to the pandemic, however, he has provided similar praise in January, February and March. On 24 January, Trump tweeted “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” and on 7 February, Trump tweeted “Just had a long and very good conversation by phone with President Xi of China. He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus. … he will be successful, especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone. Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation.” On 27 March Trump tweeted “Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China. Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet. China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!”
In the announcement that the U.S. would be halting funding for the WHO, the White House website states that “Taiwan contacted the WHO on December 31 after seeing reports of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus, but the WHO kept it from the public.” However, on the State Department’s website concerning COVID-19, it states that the world was informed about COVID-19 at the end of December stating “On December 31, 2019, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of pneumonia cases of an unknown origin in Wuhan, China.” It is unclear why there is an inconsistency between these two statements by the Trump administration.
Throughout the U.S. response to the pandemic, Trump has been consistent in not taking the blame for any shortcomings directed at his administration. On 13 March, Trump said, “I don’t take responsibility at all,” which is in spite of the lack of action taken by the Trump administration in February when the U.S. could have been ramping up the production of tests or better enforcing social distancing.
The move by Trump to de-fund the WHO appears to be another instance of Trump deflecting blame for the U.S. response to the pandemic, as he argues that the pandemic would not be as severe if the WHO had not been as trusting of China and had been faster to act, as Trump claims he has been. At a time when the world is dealing with COVID-19, it would be better if Trump did not reduce funding to an organization like the WHO, which has shortcomings but needs that money now more than ever in order to help as many people as possible.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr under licence (CC BY-SA 2.0)