By Sophie Sullivan
Media Production Editor
In a news conference held at the White House on Tues., Apr. 14, President Trump announced he would be halting US funding of the World Health Organization (WHO), citing what he explained as the organization’s role in “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” The statement comes one week after Trump threatened in a briefing to halt all funding in reaction to what he called a series of “dangerous and costly decisions,” primarily attacking the WHO’s actions in not restricting travel from China and other countries hit by the coronavirus early on.
Much of the president’s attack focused on accusing the WHO of being “China-centric” and causing a high number of unnecessary deaths. Trump continued to attack the WHO for what he believes was their failure to obtain and share information in a “timely and transparent fashion,” and claimed the organization “willingly took China’s assurances to face value.” Trump also targeted the organization’s praise of China’s actions earlier this year in preventing human-to-human transmission; this is despite the fact that he himself was supportive of China’s actions, congratulating the country’s president in a tweet late January for both China’s accomplishments in containing the virus and their “efforts and transparency.”
Trump’s decision to pull funding comes after weeks of criticism of his mishandling of the virus within the US. An ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted on Apr. 10 found that more than half of all Americans surveyed disapproved of the president’s response to the pandemic.
“As the organization’s leading sponsor, the United States has a duty to insist on full accountability… we’re looking at a term of 60 to 90 days [of halting funding]. We’re doing a very thorough investigation right now as we speak,” Trump stated at the conference.
The US is the largest single-government donor to the WHO, having pledged 893 million dollars to the organization for the two-year funding cycle of 2018 to 2019, around 20 percent of the WHO’s total budget. About 237 million dollars of this was a required operational fee which varies depending on the donating country’s size and wealth. The US paid the remaining 656 million dollars as donations.
The exact effects of Trump’s decision to pull funding are unclear, as no details have been released on exactly how funding will be halted. It is also unclear whether or not the president even has the ability to halt funding. If Trump has already committed money for the next funding cycle, he may be limited to only cutting off future payments or the existing ties between his agencies and the WHO.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement in response to Trump’s announcement, urging international support and unity. Guterres pressed that it was not time to reduce funding for the WHO or any other humanitarian organization.
“Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis. The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future. But now is not that time.”
(Sources: CNN, Ipsos, NBC, NPR, NYT, Politico, Stat News, Twitter, UN, The White House)