(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump has instructed his administration to temporarily halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) over its handling of the COVID-19 disease pandemic.
Trump said the WHO had “failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable”. He said it promoted China’s “disinformation” about the coronavirus that was likely to have led to a wider outbreak of disease.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.
China urged the United States to fulfil its obligations to the WHO. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected nearly 2 million people globally, was at a critical stage and that the U.S. decision would affect all countries.
“Apportioning blame doesn’t help. The virus knows no borders,” Maas said on Twitter on Wednesday.
“We have to work closely together against #COVID19. One of the best investments is to strengthen the @UN, especially the under-funded @WHO, for example for developing and distributing tests and vaccines.”
“At a time like this when we need to be sharing information and we need to have advice we can rely on, the WHO has provided that. We will continue to support it and continue to make our contributions,” she said.
Morrison said he sympathised with Trump’s criticisms of the WHO, especially its support of re-opening China’s “wet markets”, where freshly slaughtered animals are sold and where the outbreak first appeared in the city of Wuhan late last year.
“But that said, the WHO also as an organisation does a lot of important work including here in our region in the Pacific and we work closely with them,” Morrison said.
“We are not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, but they are also not immune from criticism and immune from doing things better.”
“Not the time” to reduce resources for WHO operations.
“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.
“Withholding funding from the WHO is an attempt by the president to shift blame for his own failures to prepare our country for this crisis – and tragically, it will lead to more suffering and death around the world.
“While the president points fingers, others are taking action. We must do everything we can to help them, and Congress must not let this dangerous decision stand.”
* PETER PIOT, DIRECTOR OF THE LONDON SCHOOL OF HYGIENE & TROPICAL MEDICINE
“Halting funding to the WHO is a dangerous, short-sighted and politically motivated decision, with potential public health consequences for all countries in the world, whether they are rich or poor.
“This pandemic is not over anywhere until it is over everywhere. Strong support from the United States has always been key for WHO’s effectiveness, and must continue.”
* LIESBETH AELBRECHT, GENERAL DIRECTOR FOR MSF SUISSE (SWITZERLAND)
“This is the wrong message to send during a pandemic when a coordinated public health response is more important than ever. Ending this pandemic will require unprecedented cooperation between nations and multilateral institutions. The World Health Organization was established specifically to provide a forum for international cooperation during global public health emergencies”
Pierre Somse, CAR’S health minister, said Trump’s move was “a regrettable decision that will have harmful effects on the functioning of the WHO and on world health, because the WHO supports many countries in the health sector.”
* CHAIRMAN, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
“With each passing day of this worsening crisis, the president is showing us his political playbook: blame the WHO, blame China, blame his political opponents, blame his predecessors - do whatever it takes to deflect from the fact that his administration mismanaged this crisis and it’s now costing thousands of American lives,” Democratic representative Eliot Engel.
Directed requests for comment to the White House.
Dr. Patrice Harris called it “a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier” and urged Trump to reconsider.
“The move sends the wrong message during the middle of a pandemic,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert and senior scholar.
Adalja said the WHO does make mistakes, as it did in delaying the response to the Ebola outbreak in 2013 and 2014 in West Africa. He said reforms may be needed, but that work needs to take place after the pandemic has passed.
“It’s not the middle of a pandemic that you do this type of thing,” he said.
Adalja said the WHO collects information about where the virus is active in every county in the world, which the United States needs to help guide decisions about when to open borders.
* MELINDA GATES, CO-CHAIR OF BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION
“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” she said on Twitter. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs the WHO now more than ever.”
* DAVID HEYMANN, FORMER SENIOR WHO OFFICIAL AND CURRENT PROFESSOR AT THE LONDON SCHOOL OF HYGIENE & TROPICAL MEDICINE
“The strength of WHO is that it is able to bring together public health experts from around the world to exchange information, review scientific evidence, and make evidence based consensus recommendations on disease prevention and control.
“I have no doubt that WHO will continue to work in this manner during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Stephen Griffin, a Leeds professor, described Trump’s move as “perhaps one of the least productive, most short-sighted, self-motivated and hypocritical acts I have ever witnessed”.
“The situation in the U.S. and the world over amounts to a crisis, and one in which we must stand together. WHO is perhaps one of the best means of achieving this and deserves the support and respect of all countries.”
Howard Catton, head of the Geneva-based ICN, which represents 132 national nursing associations, said: “The last thing we need now is for funding to be pulled and WHO to be undermined.”
“Frontline nurses and other health workers will be shocked and angered and deserve better.
“At this moment when we are facing a pandemic unprecedented in modern times, we must support WHO, not cut off its oxygen supply. We must target the virus not WHO, if we are to beat it.”
“This is nothing more than a transparent attempt by President Trump to distract from his history downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis and his administration’s failure to prepare our nation,” said Chair Leslie Dach, who served as the global Ebola coordinator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“To be sure, the World Health Organization is not without fault but it is beyond irresponsible to cut its funding at the height of a global pandemic. This move will undoubtedly make Americans less safe.”
Protect Our Care is a U.S. organisation working to protect affordable coverage for all Americans.
“This virus doesn’t need passports. In a few short months it has travelled to all of the continents of the world except Antarctica. If there were ever an event that showed us how we need to work tougher as a global community, this is it,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert.
Reporting by Michael Perry, Kate Kelland, Stephanie Nebehay and Crispin Dembassa-Kette, Editing by Stephen Coates and Alison Williams