- Threatens to pull U.S. membership, funding permanently
United States President, Donald Trump has sent a letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO) threatening to pull U.S. funding permanently from the organisation over its poor response to COVID-19.
The letter outlines a 30-day deadline for the body to commit to “substantive improvements” or risk losing millions of U.S. dollars and membership altogether.
Addressed to WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, it criticised the stages of the body’s response to COVID-19 since December 2019.
Trump published the letter on Twitter last Monday, following a day of heavy U.S. criticism of the health agency. Health Secretary, Alex Azar spoke at the WHO’s World Health Assembly and accused the organisation of letting COVID-19 spin “out of control” at the cost of “many lives”.
In his letter the U.S. President accused WHO of having an “alarming lack of independence” from China.
Trump called for the organisation to commit to “major substantive improvements” within 30 days, without clarifying what this means.
Without these changes, the president said, the U.S. will make its temporary freeze of funding permanent and “reconsider our membership in the organisation.”
Among his assertions, Trump accused the agency of having “consistently ignored” what he describes as “credible reports” of the virus spreading in Wuhan at the start of December or even earlier. The U.S. president has repeatedly accused China of failings in its response to the coronavirus outbreak.
In the letter, Trump cited reports that WHO delayed an emergency declaration under pressure from President Xi Jinping, and criticised the agency’s praise of China’s “transparency” amid its censorship and lack of international co-operation. Trump accused WHO of failing to comment on virus-related discrimination against Africans within China and said Dr. Tedros could have saved “many lives” if he had acted more like Dr. Harlem Brundtland, the WHO chief during the Sars outbreak of 2003
Trump, in his conclusion, alleged that “repeated missteps” by Dr Tedros and the WHO had been “extremely costly for the world”.
“The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China,” his letter said.
Beijing has denied the allegation. Earlier this month, the Chinese foreign ministry said the country had “all along been in good communication and co-operation” with the WHO and had “never attempted to manipulate the organisation”.
Trump announced the halting of U.S. payments last month. The country is the largest single contributor to the WHO, accounting for just less than 15 per cent of its funding in the past financial year. Trump’s ultimatum also comes at a time of pressure for the WHO.
Dr. Tedros recently backed a review of the agency’s handling of the pandemic. He said an independent evaluation would take place “at the earliest appropriate moment”. Earlier Trump had called the UN’s health body a “puppet of China”.
The president, who faces re-election this year and has himself been criticised for his handling of the pandemic, has blamed China for trying to cover up the outbreak and has accused the WHO of failing to hold Beijing to account.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Trump was trying to mislead the public, smear China and “shift the blame for (the US’s) own incompetent response”. The US has more than 1.5 million of the world’s 4.8 million confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, with more than 90,000 deaths.