Monday, 30th October 2017

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Trump threat to halt all WHO funding

President gives agency 30 days to commit to improvements, says its done a sad job

By Reuters in Washington
  • Published 20.05.20, 1:29 AM
  • Updated 20.05.20, 11:58 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
President Donald Trump arrives to speak during a visit to Capitol Hill to meet with Republican lawmakers (AP photo)

US President Donald Trump threatened on Monday to permanently halt funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO) if it did not commit to improvements within 30 days, and to reconsider his country’s membership of the agency.

Trump suspended US contributions to the WHO last month, accusing it of promoting Chinese “disinformation” about the novel coronavirus outbreak, although WHO officials denied the accusation and China said it was transparent and open.

“If the WHO does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of US funding to the WHO permanent and reconsider our membership,” Trump told its chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a letter posted on Twitter.

Earlier, Trump said the Geneva-based WHO had “done a very sad job” in its handling of the coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, and he would make a decision on funding soon.

Trump said in the letter that the only way forward for the WHO was for it to demonstrate independence from China, adding that his administration had started discussing reform with Tedros.

Trump also made various accusations against China in the letter including that it tried to block evidence the virus could be transmitted between people, pressed the WHO not to declare it an emergency, refused to share data and samples and denied access to its scientists and facilities.

China hit back on Tuesday with its foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, saying the letter was slanderous.

“The US leadership’s open letter is filled with phrases of suggestions, maybes, and potentialities, and is trying to mislead the public through this specious method, to achieve the goal of smearing and slandering China’s efforts in epidemic prevention and to shift responsibility in its own incompetence in handling the epidemic,” Zhao told a regular briefing.

Zhao said the US decision to stop contributing to the WHO was a violation of its international obligations.

A WHO spokeswoman in Geneva said on Tuesday the agency had no immediate comment on Trump's letter but expected to have “more clarity” and a reaction to it later.

On Monday, the WHO said an independent review of the global coronavirus response would begin as soon as possible and it had received backing and a hefty pledge of funds from China.

The WHO, a UN specialised agency, is leading a global initiative to develop safe and effective vaccines, tests and drugs to prevent, diagnose and treat Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

More than 4.75 million people have been infected globally and 314,414 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

The US contributed more than $400 million to the WHO in 2019, or about 15 per cent of its budget.

This year, the US has already paid the WHO about $58 million, senior Trump administration officials said last month, half of what it is required to pay for 2020 — known as an assessed contribution.

The US traditionally provides several hundred million dollars annually in voluntary funding tied to specific WHO programmes like polio eradication, vaccine-preventable disease, HIV and hepatitis, tuberculosis, and maternal and child and health.

It was not clear how much voluntary funding the US has provided for WHO programmes in 2020.

A resolution on the need to investigate the global response to the coronavirus pandemic won endorsement at the World Health Organisation's annual ministerial meeting on Tuesday.

None of the WHO’s 194 member states — which include the US — raised objections to the resolution brought by the European Union on behalf of more than 100 countries including Australia, China and Japan.

“Is the (World) Health Assembly prepared to adopt the draft resolution as proposed? As I see no requests for the floor, I take it that there is no objection and the resolution is therefore adopted,” said Keva Bain, the Bahamas ambassador who serves as the assembly's president.

Applause erupted from officials hosting the annual gathering.