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COVID-19 and Trump’s war on WHO


(FILES) In this file photo US President Donald Trump (L) and US Vice President Mike Pence (R) participate in the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 13, 2020, in Washington, DC. PHOTO: MANDEL NGAN / AFP

The United States still smarting from the welter of the coronavirus pandemic announced its withdrawal of funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a move that was hardly surprising but viewed as a bit precipitous in the midst of a global health emergency. Before the U.S. action, its president, Donald Trump had tweeted that “The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China-centric. We will be giving that a good look…” Trump’s action was hinged on the allegation that the WHO mishandled the response to the pandemic by not challenging the Chinese government enough to tease out the dynamics of the deadly virus, which would have allowed for a quick curtailment of the outbreak before its global spread.

In ways less critical of the U.S. action, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison also expressed concerns about the WHO’s handling of the pandemic. He, however, called for greater transparency from the health body on the causes of the outbreak.  The point being made really is that the WHO allegedly dithered in disclosing its contagious nature and its mode of transmission. On the contrary, the timeline of the WHO’s efforts revealed a stage-by-stage understanding of the dynamics of the virus and even recently its aerosolised nature was revealed in underscoring the deadly nature of the virus.

The crux of the matter may not be farther from the controversial origin of the virus. Was it borne out of human contrivance? Time will tell.


Nonetheless, the WHO has absolved itself of any wrongdoing. The organisation’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who regretted the action of the U.S. president called for unity and warned against allowing the virus exploiting the “crack between us.” He noted that the world health body was addressing many health crises such as polio, measles, malaria, Ebola, HIV, tuberculosis, malnutrition, cancer, diabetes and mental health among others. The director-general further hinted on self-evaluation on how it has handled the COVID 19 crisis while expressing optimism that the agency would work with its partners to fill the financial vacuum that the U.S. has created without distraction from its everyday activities.

It is interesting to note that opposition to U.S. withdrawal of funding for the WHO lurks inside the U.S. For example, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi observed that President Trump’s action was another case of “ineffective response, that ‘‘a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility.  A weak person blames others. This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged.’’ American Medical Association president Patrice Harris saw it as “dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier.”  Also, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President, Myron Brilliant, remarked that, “U.S. leadership and involvement are essential to ensuring its transparency and accountability going forward. However, cutting the WHO’s funding during the COVID-19 pandemic is not in U.S. interests.” The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres who also lent his voice to the denunciation of Trump’s action noted that, “Now is a time for unity in the global battle to push the COVID-19 pandemic into reverse, not a time to cut the resources of the World Health Organization (WHO), which is spearheading and coordinating the global body’s efforts.” Countries like China and Russia have expressed their solidarity with the health agency and in fact China has announced a donation of 20 million dollars to support the effort of the global health agency. The African Union expressed its support for the WHO and Dr. Ghebreyesus’ leadership.


Even basketball stars from Italy, Japan and Spain, playing in the NBA, have lent their support to the WHO’s hard work. Danilo Gallinari, playing with Oklahoma City Thunder; Rui Hachimura, of the Washington Wizards; and Ricky Rubio, of the Phoenix Suns, have applauded health workers and exhorted the public to abide by control measures.

We acknowledge the position of the U.S. as the leading contributor to the WHO, which is leading the battle against the COVID-19 global pandemic. But Trump’s action was petulant, disruptive and precipitous. Coming against a background of global solidarity with the efforts of the WHO, that threat is ill-timed and ill-advised. And it raises a number of questions. Why the action to withdraw funding to the WHO in the middle of a global health crisis? Is it because the agency is being headed by an African? Or is it the failure to dictate the tune being the main payer of the piper? Could it be that the president is searching for straw man having failed to heed the WHO’s warning and act proactively reining in the spread of the Coronavirus in his country as alleged by Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff? Does its decision not further alienate the U.S. from its global leadership role?


While we leave the U.S. to ponder over the above questions, we condemn its action and note that a pandemic of the magnitude currently facing the global community calls for a concerted effort. It is not about bickering or great power politics. The lesson of the current global crisis that many have hopelessly referred to as “equal opportunity health crisis” is that in the face of the overwhelming power of nature, there is no such thing as superpower but common humanity; otherwise, the powers that be should have nipped the spread of the virus in the bud.

The WHO is a specialised agency of the United Nations and its role in superintending public health is immeasurable. Indeed, when a significant public health event occurs, it is its responsibility to issue a comprehensive global alert and respond swiftly in a coordinated manner. Whatever its limitation, it needs to be strengthened at this critical time in mankind’s history. Need we remind the U.S. that the organisation’s secretariat for the Americas is in the U.S. and with U.S. employees! Therefore, we call on the U.S. to reconsider its action and instead propose some measures to reform the organisation in the light of the present fight against the lethal coronavirus. It is to be preferred to the current withdrawal of funding.


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