Washington: US President Donald Trump has halted funding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, drawing condemnation from infectious disease experts as the global death toll continued to mount.
Trump said Tuesday that he was cutting off U.S. payments to the WHO accusing the world body of failing to do enough to stop the virus from spreading when it first surfaced in China.
Trump, who has reacted angrily to criticism of his administration’s response to the worst epidemic in a century, has become increasingly hostile towards the WHO.
“The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said at a briefing. He said the U.S. would be reviewing the WHO’s actions to stop the virus before making any decision on resuming aid.
Nearly 2 million people globally have been infected and more than 124,000 have died since the disease emerged in China late last year, according to a Reuters tally.
Leading health experts have labelled Donald Trump’s decision to cut funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “crime against humanity” and a “damnable” act that will cost lives, reported the Guardian.
There was no immediate comment from the Geneva-based organization on Trump’s announcement. But when asked about possible U.S. funding cuts during a regular U.N. briefing earlier Tuesday, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris responded, “Regardless of any issues, our work will go on.”
The move also drew a rebuke from the head of the United Nations, who said the WHO was “absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19”.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was not the time to reduce resources for the WHO.
“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” he said in a statement.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15 per cent of its budget.
Last week, Trump blasted the WHO for being “China-centric” and alleging that it had “criticized” his ban on travel from China as the COVID-19 outbreak was spreading from the city of Wuhan.
The WHO generally takes care not to criticize countries on their national policies, and it was not immediately clear what specific criticism Trump was alluding to.
Trump himself showed deference to China at the beginning stages of the outbreak.
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” he tweeted Jan. 24. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
Asked Tuesday about the appropriateness of seeking to cut the WHO’s funding in the middle of a worldwide viral outbreak, Trump said the review would last 60 to 90 days.
“This is an evaluation period, but in the meantime, we’re putting a hold on all funds going to World Health,” Trump said.
Trump has also complained that other countries give substantially less than the U.S., singling out China.
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.
Harris said international cooperation is needed to fight the virus, along with science and data.
“Cutting funding to the WHO, rather than focusing on solutions, is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world,” she said.
Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal, wrote that Trump’s decision was “a crime against humanity … Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity.”
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