By Jim Hayes
Reeling form epic mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak, US President Donald Trump has gone and cut all funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO), and has found himself facing a wave of condemnation from around the world and at home.
The WHO is the United Nation’s (UN) body concerned with the health of the population around the world, and is therefore a leading agency in the fight against the current pandemic. critics say the cut is harming this fight.
Condemnation has come from the European Union. Russia has warned against politicisation of COVIC-19. A range of African leaders and the African Union have spoken out. New Zealand has too. China has expressed serious concern and urged the United States to “fulfill its obligations”. This is only part of the reaction.
No other nation or leader has come out to back Donald Trump. Even Australia’s Scott Morrison although stating he sympathises with Trump, has fallen short of the funding cut.
The UN has come out in defence of the WHO., and its Secretary-General António Guterres, has condemned Trump’s action.
Criticism has been swift at home. Besides that coming from the Democrat’s camp, American health experts have joined their international counterparts. Lawrence Gostin, a global health law expert from Georgetown University, told MSNBC’s Ari Melber that “there’ll be many more deaths” without a WHO that’s empowered. Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal, described Trump’s decision as “a crime against humanity.”
Microsoft owner Bill Gates, whose foundation is the second biggest donor to the WHO, has come out punching and suggested that the move is”as bad as it looks”.
American Medical Association President Dr. Patrice Harris warned halting funding “is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier.”
“Fighting a global pandemic requires international cooperation and reliance on science and data,” Harris said in a statement shared online. “Cutting funding to the WHO – rather than focusing on solutions – is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world.”
“The AMA is deeply concerned by this decision and its wide-ranging ramifications, and we strongly urge the President to reconsider,” Harris added.
Trump’s move is being interpreted as an attempt to shift attention away from the disaster at home, while the United States is leading the world in infections and deaths.
Even this is being underestimated, as many Americans are not getting access to hospitals. More are dying than the hospital only figures suggest. This suggest the number infected is greater than the statistics provided.
Part of the problem is the lack of a coherent national response, which leaves the major effort to the states, which remain extremely porous and short of resources. And Trumps is talking about getting people back to work as soon as possible.
Trump blames the WHO for “severely mismanaging and covering up,” the outbreak. The truth is that it declared the virus a public health emergency on 30 January, as soon as the global spread was known. Just weeks later, on 13 March, the Who warned that the lack of action by many countries was alarming.
One of the worst was the United States. Donald Trump’s public reaction was to play it down and bulk at preparing for a crisis. More than 25,000 Americans have died since. Then he says: “The WHO really blew it,” by not containing the outbreak in China.
Left out of this rhetoric is that the Who has been facing considerable difficulty, due to earlier funding cuts ordered by Donald Trump himself. Despite this, it has been praised by many other nations for its efforts and has been recognised for acting sooner and more thoroughly than in the past.
Line this with the shifting China position. Back in January he praised the Chinese for quick action and informing the world early. Then there was the sudden shift and the crude “China virus” remark and playing the blame game. He accused China of spreading “disinformation” about the virus,” and insisted that China “must be held accountable”. There is enormous inconsistency in all this.
Trump has been trying to make the case that the WHO operates under the influence of China. The truth is that this is an organisation with a managing body made up of one representative from each UN member Nation, and it has no political mandate. Funding is provided through a mix of member contributions and some private donations.
Below is the list of the main current funding nations.
Advantage was taken of the WHO’s working with China to find out more about the virus and contain it, and that it got tangled in the ongoing tension between China and an increasingly belligerent Taiwan. This is where the allegation of China/WHO collusion originated.
Taiwan has not been admitted as a member of the UN or the WHO, and is engaged in a diplomatic war to change this. Regardless of the rights and wrongs, this should never be used in a way that undermines joint action on COVID=19.
It is too easy to suggest this is no more than an attempt of the President to pull a veil over his own failure. This may be part of it. But there is something more. It is obvious that the epidemic is being deliberately politicised to pursue geopolitical ambitions. The China/Taiwan issue is part of it.
Continuing the diplomatic and trade war on China is the biggest is another. It doesn’t stop here. Despite calls to lift them for humanitarian reasons, trade sanctions on nearly 40 nations remain intact. This hinders the flow of medicines and medical personnel, and therefore the battle against COVID-19.
Venezuela, for instance, now has a flotilla of US battleships lined up along its coast, to block out help coming in from other nations. Even with this, Venezuela is one of the world’s major success stories, as its neighbours suffer from the rapid spread of the infection.
Iran is being threatened with military strikes, despite its own problems with the pandemic. Even Europe is not being spared a trade dispute.
The WHO has responded. It’s director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference; “We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in the funding…” Acting diplomatically, he said, “the United States of America has been a long-standing and generous friend of the WHO and we hope it will continue to be so.”
WHO chief responds to Trump plan to halt and review funding
Video from Sky News
The WHO chief also said the body “… is reviewing the impact on our work of any withdrawal of US funding and we will work with partners to fill any gaps and ensure our work continues uninterrupted.” This means that there will be discussions with the other 193 UN members to work out a funding alternative.