Halting WHO funding: How US abdicates global responsibility in mid pandemic

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Vijay Srinivas |Bengaluru

US President Donald Trump is facing backlash for his move to stop the funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the agency ramps up a global battle against the coronavirus. Trump had accused the health watchdog of being “China-centric” pushing “misinformation” and deliberately “failed in its basic duty”.

Soon after this unprecedented move, several health experts condemned Trump calling his act “appalling” and a “crime against humanity.”

It didn’t stop right there, eminent people from the corporate world and political spectrum have joined the club to criticise the US president. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and a major donor to the WHO, through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “it was as dangerous as it sounds.”

A spokesman for the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the WHO had “an important role to play in leading the global health response”. Countries such as Germany, China, New Zealand, and the European Union too have expressed solidarity with the WHO and appreciated it’s role.

WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on reacting to Trump’s statements said that the UN body regrets the decision of the US president and had expressed hope that the country will continue to be WHO’s a long-standing and generous friend.

The United States is WHO’s largest funder that donated more than $400 mn last year followed by the Gates foundation at $200 mn.

For a frame of reference, the WHO alerted over the outbreak in China’s Wuhan on January 5 and there were regular teleconferences held by the agency for the next couple of days with the governments of various countries including the United States. But leaving all this aside, Trump and other Republicans have taken WHO’s January 14 tweet, which stated that there is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission according to preliminary studies. What didn’t come to Trump’s notice is the WHO’s statement on January 23, exactly one week before the UN body declared a global health emergency, confirming the human-to-human transmission of coronavirus infections.

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The WHO too has been criticised by many for its handling of the pandemic, particularly when an official refused to discuss Taiwan’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak showing signs of China’s influence. There are other allegations of being a bit slow earlier in reacting towards the pandemic especially when it was hesitant to declare global health emergency trashing Chinese epidemiologist Dr. Zhong’s warning of human-to-human transmission. Tedros, in particular, was also accused of his flattery of Xi Jinping and other officials in China. What needs to be remembered is the fact that the WHO was not allowed to enter China until February 22 and the nod from China came only after Tedros flew to Beijing on January 29 to meet Xi to seek entry.

But this in no way supports Trump’s allegations while he had also engaged in a fair amount of coaxing Xi and China for their handling of the outbreak. Trump tweeted “China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus … The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency”.

Apart from Trump’s cajolery, there are significant flaws pointed out in the way in which he is tackling the outbreak in the US. The country delayed the testing process by more than 6 weeks than others in the world. There was almost no sign of tests carried out throughout February but Trump bragged on February 24 that “the coronavirus is very much in control”.

Trump’s scapegoating of WHO happened just last week when more media reports criticised that he acted too slowly to contain the coronavirus infections and it’s difficult to predict the ramifications that this move could pan out in the upcoming US elections but it could be politically correct to say that the hampering of funds to the WHO is the White House’ act of shying away from being a global leader yet again.

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