The WHO failed its basic duty and must be held accountable, says President Trump.
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Trump announced Tuesday that the United States would immediately halt all funding for WHO for putting “political correctness over lifesaving measures” and failing to keep the international community apprised of the threat in the early stages of the outbreak.
“The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said at a White House press conference. “The outbreak could have been contained at its source.”
Speaking at a briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China has “serious concerns” about Trump’s move to revoke financial support for the WHO during times of crisis, according to Bloomberg.
“This U.S. decision will weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international cooperation,” Zhao said. “China will, as always, support the WHO in playing an important role in international public health and global anti-epidemic response.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian in February (TASS via Getty)
Zhao has been on the State Department’s radar for leading a Chinese propaganda campaign, purposely sowing misinformation online about the origin of the novel COVID-19 illness. In its investigative report published in late February, WHO determined coronavirus originated in the city of Wuhan in the Chinese Hubei province.
At the White House coronavirus news briefing in the Rose Garden Tuesday, Trump also declared that the United States would undertake a 60- to 90-day investigation into why the "China-centric" WHO had caused "so much death" by "severely mismanaging and covering up" the coronavirus' spread, including by making the "disastrous" decision to oppose travel restrictions on China.
President Donald Trump takes questions from reporters as he speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, April 14, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The U.S. is WHO's largest single donor, and the State Department had previously planned to provide the agency $893 million in the current two-year funding period. Trump said the United States contributes roughly $400 million to $500 million per year to WHO, while China offers only about $40 million. The money saved will go to areas that "most need it," Trump asserted.
The American Medical Association immediately called on Trump to reconsider his decision.
“During the worst public health crisis in a century, halting funding to the World Health Organization is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier," AMA President Patrice A. Harris said in a statement. “Cutting funding to the WHO, rather than focusing on solutions, is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responded to Trump’s decision by saying now is not the time to end support for the WHO due to its “absolutely critical” global effort to combat COVID-19, adding that the appropriate time for a review is “once we have finally turned the page on this pandemic,” according to the Associated Press.
On Wednesday, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said pulling American financial backing for WHO during a pandemic was “as dangerous as it sounds.”
“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Gates said in Tweet Wednesday. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”
Ashish Jha, the director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute, admitted Tuesday that WHO has failed in its response to outbreaks in the past, but said pulling funding now as it responds to the outbreak is an “extraordinarily bad decision.”
“Yes, @WHO is imperfect and we should hold it to account for missteps in the way it dealt with China. But now is not the time,” Ashish Jha, the director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute, said on Twitter Tuesday. “It will make the world worse off. It will make America worse off. This is an extraordinarily bad decision.”
“I have a long history of criticizing @WHO when they mess up,” he continued in a follow-up tweet. “I blamed WHO for catastrophic response to Ebola in 2014. I criticized WHO for naming [Zimbabwe's Robert] Mugabe a health ambassador. But current scapegoating of WHO is exactly that. Scapegoating. And the losers will be the American people.”
Given Congress authorizes disbursements for WHO, several House Democrats challenged whether Trump had the authority to halt its funding, comparing the decision to his threat to pull support from Ukraine – a subject that launched an impeachment probe last year.
“In a desperate attempt to deflect blame, President Trump is threatening to violate the same spending laws that brought about his impeachment,” House Appropriations Committee spokesman Evan Hollander said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “The president does not have the unilateral authority to withhold the United States’ assessed contribution to the World Health Organization.”
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., also called the president’s move “so stupid and so dangerous.”
“The World Health Organization leads and coordinates the fight against pandemics. It’s what they do,” Beyer said on Twitter. “You don’t stop firefighters from doing their jobs during a five-alarm fire.”
Trump argued that WHO ignored “credible information” in December 2019 that the virus could be transmitted from human to human, as well as recommended against travel bans in January – around the same time he chose to curb flights from China for non-American travelers. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S. and a key member of Trump's coronavirus task force, has said misinformation from China, repeated by WHO, had affected U.S. response efforts.
Republican Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona and Rick Scott of Florida have claimed WHO worked with China in its alleged effort to cover-up and downplay the extent of the outbreak, Bloomberg reported. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., vowed to cut funding in the next appropriations bill.
Fox News' Gregg Re and the Associated Press contributed to this report.