Trump cuts WHO funding and claims coronavirus ‘failures’

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Sanwar Ali comment:

The US cut in World Health Organisation (WHO) funding has been highly controversial.  No organisation is perfect.  However, in the 1960s and 1970s, despite the Cold War, thanks to WHO both the United States and the Soviet Union worked together to end Smallpox a serious infectious disease in 1980.  Coronavirus COVID-19 is a virus that, similarly, needs to be dealt with globally.      

US President Donald Trump has sparked a backlash from global leaders after cutting funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) for alleged ‘mismanagement’ of the coronavirus. Trump’s decision has been described as a ‘crime against humanity’ by leading health experts who say that the act is ‘damnable’ and will cost lives.

António Guterres, the head of the United Nations, has also slammed Trump’s decision saying that ‘the WHO plays an absolutely critical role in the world’s effort to win the battle against COVID-19.’

Trump announced that funding to the WHO would be cut for 60 - 90 days on April 14. The US President said: “Pending a review to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus, funding will be stopped.”

Claims that Trump actions blow in battle against coronavirus

Trump’s announcement comes as a devastating blow not only to the WHO, but the world’s battle against the disease. The US is the single largest contributor to the WHO, according to a report published by The Guardian.

Editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal, Richard Horton, described Trump’s decision as a ‘crime against humanity.’

“Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity,” Horton said.

António Guterres said: “This is not the time to question errors and cut funding. Once we have beaten 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 world, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis.”

Guterres added that the lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic can be used to tackle similar, future challenges should they arise. He stressed that the time for this is not now, and neither is it the time to withhold resources that are vital to the work of the WHO and every other humanitarian organization in the frontline fight against the virus.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the WHO, said he ‘regretted’ Trump’s decision, but added: “Our commitment to public health, science, and to serving all the people of the world without fear or favour remains absolute. The WHO agency is reviewing the impact of the withdrawal of US funds to ensure our work continues uninterrupted.”

Meanwhile, business tycoon Bill Gates called Trump’s decision to cease funding for the WHO ‘as dangerous as it sounds.’

Suggestions that WHO has made mistakes

Senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, Dr Amesh Adalja, said that the WHO has made mistakes and ‘may need reform,’ but echoed Guterres plea not to focus on the errors as the world continues its fight against COVID-19. “In the middle of a worldwide pandemic isn’t the time to do this type of thing,” Dr Adalja said.

Infectious disease doctor and associate professor at Boston University’s school of medicine, Dr Nahid Bhadelia, described the funding cut as an ‘absolute disaster’.

Former senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, Laurie Garrett called it a ‘spiteful act’ by Trump. “For many nations in Africa, Latin American and Asia Pacific, the WHO is the only lifeline they have.”

Director of the WHO centre on public health and human rights, Lawrence Gostin, said that America will ultimately lose out as result of Trump’s actions. Gostin said: “Other countries will step into the vacuum with increased funding. In global health and amid a pandemic, America will lose its voice.”

However, the WHO has faced widespread criticism over its handling of some aspects of the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, the organization has come under fire for being too submissive to China, given that the country’s Communist party withheld vital information and punished whistleblowers attempting to alert world leaders to the spread of COVID-19.

Much of the criticism targeted at the WHO stems from a tweet the organization posted on January 14, which read: “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”

However, it’s understood that WHO officials notified their counterparts, in a series of technical briefings on January 10 and 11 and later the press on January 14, of a strong possibility that the disease could spread as a result of human-to-human transmission.

The organization has also come under attack over its failure to grant Taiwan membership of the WHO with China arguing that the country is Chinese territory.

Trump decision welcomed by some

While Trump has faced a severe backlash from most world leaders and health experts, some have welcomed the US President’s decision, including Joshua Wong – a Hong Kong democracy activist. Wong branded the WHO ‘an arm of Chinese diplomacy’ in a tweet.

Despite Trump accusing the WHO of coronavirus mismanagement, the US President himself has faced criticism for his failure to prepare for the pandemic which has swept across the US. With the highest infection rate and death toll in the world, more than 600,000 people are reportedly suffering from the disease, and more than 24,000 have died in the US.

Trump has since caused further controversy by delaying relief funding checks of $1,200, set to be issued to more than 70 million people because he wanted his name printed on them.

Trump actions amid coronavirus recently reported on several actions Trump has taken amid coronavirus. Most notable is that Trump is seemingly using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for harsh US immigration policies.

Trump has used emergency powers, designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, to expel 6,300 undocumented migrants on the US border with Mexico. Acting US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner, Mark Morgan, defended these actions, saying: “This is not about immigration. This is about public health.”

“This is about putting forth aggressive mitigation and containment measures,” Morgan added.

Prior to the coronavirus becoming widespread in the US, Trump had described it a ‘Democratic hoax’, accusing them of politicising the disease. However, just weeks after this comment, the US President declared a state of national emergency.

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