President Donald Trump said he’s considering putting a “hold” on U.S. funding for the World Health Organization after the agency “blew it” by failing to sound the alarm sooner about the coronavirus.
“I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we’re going to look at it,” the president said Tuesday at a White House briefing on the coronavirus. The European regional director for the World Health Organization cautioned against cutting resources to fight the pandemic.
China contributed about $6.3 million to the WHO’s $2.2 billion 2018 general fund. The U.S. led all donors for that year with $281 million.
Earlier in the briefing, Trump called the Geneva-based international body “very China-centric.” He also said the WHO was wrong to advise against travel restrictions he imposed on China.
“They’re always on the side of China, but we fund it,” Trump said. “So we want to look into it.”
The world is still in the acute phase of the pandemic, and the WHO needs support for projects such as trials of experimental therapies for Covid-19, said Hans Kluge, the regional director for Europe.
“This is not a time to cut back on the funding,” he said in a press briefing.
China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday expressed support for the WHO and said a cut in U.S. funding would have “negative impacts” effect on global cooperation to fight the virus.
“We hope countries will stay in solidarity and contribute to this joint global response,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing. “China will continue to support the role of WHO and support its leadership in this fight.”
Bruce Aylward, one of the WHO’s top officials, who helped lead a fact-finding mission to China said it was necessary to work with that country because it was the epicenter of the outbreak. China’s own travel restrictions helped prevent transmission to other countries, he said.
The WHO has urged countries to avoid blanket travel bans to countries experiencing outbreaks because historically such moves have been ineffective. People often book flights through another hub, which can make their movements difficult for authorities to trace. Restrictions can also prevent countries from receiving medical equipment and vital goods.
The agency has a policy of avoiding public criticism of member countries in order to avoid undercutting their health measures.
The WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic on March 11 after growing calls to do so from experts around the world. It had called the epidemic an international health emergency at the end of January.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said Trump was doing a “great job” by using what the president has called a whole-government approach. He also praised Trump for leveraging research and development, engaging with the private sector on things such as medical supplies, expanding testing and educating the public.
Tedros has also repeatedly praised China, even as Beijing was criticized by other countries and organizations for being slow to respond initially to the outbreak there and for resisting cooperation with international disease-trackers.
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