The news: President Trump’s decision to freeze US funding for the World Health Organization has been met with condemnation by political and scientific leaders around the world. Yesterday Trump announced that US funding to the WHO would be suspended for 60 to 90 days pending a review to assess the organization’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” The US is the single biggest contributor to the WHO, paying it about $500 million last year, of an overall budget of around $6 billion.
The response: Criticism of the move was as sharp as it was swift. These were just some of the comments:
- Antonio Guterres, head of the United Nations, the WHO’s parent organization, said it was “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.”
- EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said: “There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain & mitigate the coronavirus pandemic.”
- Richard Horton, the editor in chief of the Lancet medical journal, tweeted that Trump’s decision was “a crime against humanity.”
- Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said: “It’s not in the middle of a pandemic that you do this type of thing.”
- Bill Gates, who is the biggest private funder of the WHO, tweeted: “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds.”
- Lawrence Gostin, the director of the WHO center on public health and human rights, tweeted that the move would backfire because other countries would step into the vacuum with increased funding. “In global health and amidst a pandemic, America will lose its voice,” said Gostin.
Reality check: The move can be interpreted as an attempt to shift blame for the pandemic, which has hit the US harder than any other country. But the WHO warned the US of the risk of human-to-human transmission of covid-19 as far back as January 10.