US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he had instructed his administration to suspend funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in a move that drew immediate condemnation.
Trump, at a White House news conference, claimed the WHO had “failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable”.
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He accused the group of promoting China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak of the virus than otherwise would have occurred.
Trump said the US would continue to engage with the WHO in pursuit of what he calls meaningful reforms. He added that the “hold” on funding would continue while the US reviews the organisation’s warnings about the coronavirus and China.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was “not the time” to be reducing funds to the WHO or any other organisation fighting the pandemic.
“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” Guterres said in a statement.
The WHO did not immediately comment.
Writing on social media, Dr Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases specialist and the medical director of the Special Pathogens Unit at Boston University, said withdrawing funding would be a disaster.
“Cutting 15 percent (US contribution) of WHO budget during the biggest projected pandemic of the last century is an absolute disaster,” she wrote on Twitter. “WHO is a global technical partner, the platform through which sovereign countries share data/technology, our eyes on the global scope of this pandemic.”
The US president, himself under pressure over his handling of the outbreak, has been feuding with the UN agency as he seeks to apportion blame for the gravity of the crisis.
The US has now reported more than 600,000 cases of coronavirus, the highest in the world.
Reacting to Trump’s previous threats, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week that it was not the time for such rhetoric.
“The focus of all political parties should be to save their people. Please don’t politicise this virus,” Tedros said at a press briefing in Geneva last week.
“If you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicising it … We will have many body bags in front of us if we don’t behave.”
Tedros, a former foreign minister of Ethiopia, also rejected Trump’s suggestion that the WHO was “China-centric”, saying: “We are close to every nation, we are colour-blind.”