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How U.S. suspension of WHO funding threatens COVID-19 fight

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• Medical experts warn of health system collapse
• Govt to use social register, BVN for palliatives

The World Health Organisation (WHO) “will no longer be able to meet its obligations and mandate,” President of the Nigerian Medical Association Dr. Francis Faduyile warned yesterday.

Faduyile, who was reacting to the United States’ suspension of funding to the global health body, told The Guardian: “The United States is one of the major contributors to the funds used by the WHO for health interventions globally including for COVID-19.

“The WHO provides a lot of support to the health system in the country. Without the technical support of the WHO to Nigeria, the health system might collapse. The WHO will have to scale down its activities and the efforts to contain COVID-19 and other diseases especially in Nigeria will suffer. The implications cannot be overemphasised. It is sad news that is not going to help the world.”

He added: “The WHO is in Nigeria to help in a lot of things; a lot of activities in support to drive the health system. All the support it offers to Nigeria based on researches and data is no longer going to be there. It means that we are going to reinvent the wheel.”

Similarly, President of the Guild of Medical Directors Prof. Femi Dokun-Babalola admitted that the U.S. is the largest single contributor to the WHO, responsible for about 22 per cent of voluntary and assessed contributions.

“This totalled $513 million in 2017. It is difficult to see how the WHO will cope, since it was already chronically underfunded,” Dokun-Babalola said.

He noted: “The reason given by President Trump is puzzling: that the WHO was too ‘Chinacentric’ and did not agree to a ban on travel from China to the States earlier on. This is puerile at best, but totally in tandem with the behaviour of this administration in serious world affairs. The U.S. also pulled out of the Paris climate accord. This is not Making America Great Again. This is Making America Grumpy Again.”

Dokun-Babalola who argued that America’s vaunted “leadership” in world affairs is now a thing of the past, said: “All empires must end, and the end is in sight for Pax Americana.”

Reacting to the development, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this was “not the time” to be reducing funds to the WHO or any other organisation fighting COVID-19.

“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.”
Writing on social media, Dr Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases specialist and the medical director of the Special Pathogens Unit at Boston University, said:“Cutting 15 percent (U.S. contribution) of WHO budget during the biggest projected pandemic of the last century is an absolute disaster.”

Under pressure over his handling of the pandemic, President Trump had over the past week rebuked the global health body, accusing it of promoting China’s “disinformation” on the virus and causing a wider outbreak. On Tuesday, he hinted that the U.S. would halt funding for the organisation, pending a review of WHO’s response to the pandemic.

The U.S. has reported more than 600,000 cases of coronavirus, the highest in the world, with over 20,000 deaths. It is believed the action could open the door to increased Chinese influence in the global health arena. In 2017, China supported the election of current WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus over a U.S.-backed rival.

Meanwhile, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management Sadiya Farouq yesterday said her office would focus on the urban poor and deploy the National Social Register and Bank Verification Number (BVN) to determine beneficiaries of the Federal Government’s palliatives.

The disclosure came amid moves by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to cushion the pains of the lockdown put in place to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

While briefing State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the minister said: “You are aware that the president in his broadcast of Monday 13th April directed that we expand the beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer by one million.In this regard, we are going to focus more now on the urban poor.

“These are people who depend on the informal sector to earn their livelihood; they are daily wage earners and these are the people that we are really going to focus more on as well as people living with disabilities.”

Farouq explained that the ministry would adopt three methods in selecting the beneficiaries of the scheme.

“We have three options.One, we are going to use the national social register that we already have.Two, we are also going to focus on the urban poor, as I mentioned, by using their verified BVN accounts to get them. That is, people that have an account balance of N5,000 and below.

“We are also using the mobile networks, to know people that top up credit units for their phones with may be N100 or less. Those are also people that we consider to be poor and vulnerable. So, these are the three options that we are exploring and I am sure that by the time we get this data, we will be able to give this intervention.” She, however, stressed that only 25 per cent of the population would benefit for now, although there are plans to expand the scope.

“Let me also say that we have a standard. Twenty-five per cent of the total population is what we will take out. It cannot go round everywhere. But we are starting from somewhere. Twenty-five per cent of, let’s say, the location of Lagos State for example is what is going to benefit from this intervention that we are doing. Going forward, we might expand it.But this is what is obtainable for now,” she said.

She noted further that the ministry planned to hand over the distribution of food relief items to state governments, to address past challenges associated with distribution.

“So far, we have already done the distribution together with the state authorities in these two states affected by the lockdown, together with the FCT but going forward, when we are going to give these food items, we are going to hand them over to the states because issues have come up.As at yesterday (Monday), our people were mobbed, some of them were attacked in the course of carrying out this assignment.So, the general conclusion is that we give this food relief directly to the state governments for them to distribute to the beneficiaries.”

But members of the Coalition of Northern Group (CNG) have criticised the Federal Government’s decision to support only three million Nigerians. They said the number was inadequate in a country of about 200 million people.

In a statement yesterday, the spokesman of the group, Abdulazeez Suleiman, added: “The Federal Government must come up with a transparent mode for the distribution of palliatives across the country including methods of identifying and reaching out to vulnerable groups. CNG categorically rejects the incoherent and inconsistent government explanation on the mode of distributing the palliatives, which till date remains unsubstantiated and unverifiable everywhere.”

A non-governmental organisation, Committee of Youths on Mobilisation and Sensitisation (CYMS) also urged the Federal Government to be fair in the distribution of palliatives.

Addressing journalists yesterday in Abuja, a spokesperson for the group, Manuchimso Sam Amadi, said for the lockdown to be effective, government must provide more palliatives to cushion the impact of the restriction.

“We call on the federal and state governments to engage better. They must design better palliatives that take into cognisance the structure of our society. The private sectors should also be fully involved,” he said, advising security agencies to be professional while enforcing the lockdown.


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