Why Trump Suspended US Funding For WHO In The Midst Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

by Tushar Gupta - Apr 15, 2020 10:35 AM +05:30 IST
Why Trump Suspended US Funding For WHO In The Midst Of The Coronavirus PandemicPrime Minister Modi and US President Donald Trump 
  • The White House has announced that it will temporarily suspend funding to the World Health Organization for its inability to share timely information about the coronavirus outbreak.

    Trump’s apprehension of the WHO, however, is not entirely misplaced.

After threatening to halt funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) only a few days ago, the United States President Donald Trump stated that his administration was temporarily suspending funding for the United Nations body.

Citing WHO’s inability to share timely information about the coronavirus outbreak and taking claims of China "at face value", Trump said that the organisation had failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable.

Further, taking a dig at WHO, which he had blamed for being ‘China-centric’, only a few days ago in another press conference, he added that the virus outbreak could have been contained at its source if the organisation had responded correctly. Notably, in January, Trump had praised China for its efforts in containing the coronavirus outbreak while thanking President Xi Jinping,

However, there is not enough clarity if the Oval Office can suspend disbursement of funds to the UN body, given it is sanctioned by Congress. House Democrats have already voiced their concerns against Trump’s decision to temporarily suspend the funding, saying that it would be a violation of the law and the Oval Office had no authority to do so.

Within the Republican Party, however, there is significant support for Trump’s decision to suspend the funding. Some senators within the party have also accused WHO of aiding China in its attempt to cover up the news of the outbreak and downplay it.

The denouncement came as WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, in a statement on Tuesday night, that the chance to investigate the spread of the disease around the world would come later and at an appropriate time.

Tedros, for a while now, has been emphasising on the need for solidarity for the international community to contain the virus outbreak while dodging criticism from the White House.

In its current two-year funding cycle, the US has contributed $893 million for the operations of the WHO and $453 million in the fiscal year of 2019. As per some early reports, the funding halt would be immediate and the Trump administration will discuss diverting the money otherwise allocated for the WHO to other health programmes.

The member states make two kinds of payments to the WHO. Firstly, there are the assessed contributions that members have to pay to be part of the organisation.

The payment here is calculated on the basis of the wealth and population of each country. As of March 2020, the US’ contribution stood at $57.9 million, making it the biggest contributor, followed by China at around $28.7 million. India’s contribution, meanwhile, was less than $2 million.

The second payment type is a voluntary contribution, and thus, members with a higher assessed contribution are expected to make more payments. In February, the Trump administration requested a reduction in US financial contributions to the WHO from $122.6 million to an assessed contribution of $57.9 million. However, in 2017, the US made a voluntary contribution of $401 million, according to a report in theWall Street Journal.

Within the assessed contributions, the US share stands at 22 per cent, as per WHO records, thus making it the biggest contributor to the UN body. Other agencies like the State Department, Department of Health and Human Services, and the US Agency for International Development have also contributed to the WHO fund.

As per WHO records, the money has been deployed in eradicating polio and aiding health and nutrition services across Africa, thus making the US contributions critical to WHO’s global operations.

However, Trump’s apprehension of the WHO is not entirely misplaced.

According to this report in the Financial Times, the WHO was made aware of the human-to-human transmission of the virus by Taiwan at the end of December.

To put things in perspective, the United States had its first Covid-19 case on 24 January, Italy on 1 February, Iran on 21 February, and Germany on 30 January. Taiwan also accused the WHO of failing to communicate to its member countries critical information about the human transmission of the virus and thus slowing down the response to the pandemic.

The WHO has also been criticised by the Trump administration for its slowness in responding to the crisis. Only on 14 January, almost a week before Wuhan went into lockdown, the WHO put out a tweet saying that they had found no clear evidence of the human transmission of the novel coronavirus.

A month later, on 14 February, the WHO further defended the Chinese over the outbreak, stating that the nation had cooperated on various fronts to curb the outbreak. On 17 February, the WHO stated that the transmission of the virus was beginning to slow down, citing that much of the spread was still in China, further adding to the confusion.

While on 25 February, in a briefing to the media, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was quoted as saying, “for the moment, we’re not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we’re not witnessing large-scale severe disease or deaths”, merely two weeks later, the WHO would declare Europe as the new epicentre of the outbreak.

The Trump administration, blaming the WHO, stated that late information on air-travel restriction was one of the major reasons that contributed to the outbreak of the virus outside China.

On 29 February, the WHO stated it had advised against the application of travel and trade restrictions to countries experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks, thus further defending China and indirectly aiding the outbreak.

The US’ consequential withdrawal from another United Nations body is an indicator of China’s ascent within the global order in recent years. As elaborated here, China has been infiltrating many UN institutions and has flexed its economic muscle to gain leverage in policymaking and issues of geopolitical importance including trade, technology, telecommunication, intellectual property, and human rights.

In June 2018, the Trump administration declared the US was leaving the heavily politicised and inefficient UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council). Now, if the decision to suspend funding to the WHO remains, this will further reduce the US’ clout within the UN, thus benefiting China in the long run.

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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