Trump halting World Health Organisation funding over its handling of coronavirus

US President Donald Trump, who critics say was slow to act to slow the spread of Covid-19, accused the World Health Organisation of concealing information about the coronavirus at early stages, costing what he said were "thousands" of lives.
Trump speaks during a coronavirus briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 14, 2020.
Trump speaks during a coronavirus briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 14, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - United States President Donald Trump said on Tuesday (April 14) that he had instructed his administration to at least temporarily halt funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Trump, at a White House news conference, said the WHO had "failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable".

He said the group had promoted China's "disinformation" about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak of the virus than otherwise would have occurred.

According to Mr Trump, the WHO prevented transparency over the outbreak and the US – the United Nations body’s biggest funder which provided US$400 million (S$565 million) last year – will now “discuss what to do with all that money that goes to the WHO”.

"With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible."

Mr Trump’s attack on the WHO reflects his belief that the organisation is biased towards China and colluded to prevent the US’ main economic rival from having to be open about the unfolding health disaster.  

He says this cost other countries crucial time to prepare and delayed decisions to stop international travel.  

"The WHO's attack on travel restrictions put political correctness above life-saving measures," he said.  

"Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China's lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death," he said.

"This would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage. Instead, the WHO willingly took China’s assurances to face value... and defended the actions of the Chinese government," he said.

In response, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday it was "not the time" to reduce resources for the WHO or any other humanitarian organisation in the fight against the virus.

 
 
 
 

"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.

Mr Trump's decision also drew condemnation from American Medical Association president Patrice Harris who called it "a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating Covid-19 easier" and urged Mr Trump to reconsider. 

Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, who heads the US House of Representatives Committee that sets government spending, said Mr Trump was making a mistake. 

"The coronavirus cannot just be defeated here in the United States, it has to be defeated in every conceivable location throughout the world," she said in a statement.

Earlier on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was seeking to "fundamentally change" the WHO.

"The World Health Organisation in its history has done some good work. Unfortunately here, it didn't hit the top of its game," Mr Pompeo told Florida radio programme Good Morning Orlando.

"We need to make sure that we push through efforts to fundamentally change that or make a different decision that says we're going to do our part to make sure that these important world health obligations - things that frankly keep Americans safe, too - actually function," he said.

 
 
 

The Trump administration, a frequent critic of UN bodies, says that the WHO relied too much on Chinese official accounts after the virus officially known as Sars-CoV-2 emerged late last year in the metropolis of Wuhan.

The WHO, quoting Chinese doctors, in the initial weeks said it had no information of human-to-human transmission and praised Beijing's transparency.

Critics have pointed out that for weeks after the coronavirus epidemic began unfolding, Mr Trump frequently praised Beijing’s response and downplayed the danger it posed at home.

Critics say that Mr Trump is eager for a foreign scapegoat as he comes under fire for his own handling of the pandemic, which he boasted in January was "totally under control" but has now killed more than 23,500 people in the US - more than in any other country.