On Tuesday April 14th, President Donald Trump announced that the United States will be cutting funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). This is in response to the WHO’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Wednesday, the pandemic has affected over 1.8 million people globally. The U.S. itself now has more than 600,000 reported cases; more than any other country. The president’s decision to withdraw vital funding to the leading health organisation, in the midst of the crisis, has been met with widespread criticism amongst the international community.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres responded to Trump’s announcement in a statement on Tuesday. He stressed that the UN’s health agency is “on the front lines, supporting Member States and their societies, especially the most vulnerable among them, with guidance, training, equipment and concrete life-saving services.” The work that WHO does is “absolutely critical” in combatting the crisis, Guterres argued. He stated that now is not the time to reduce resources in the fight against the virus. The UN chief called on countries to work in “solidarity” to “win the war” against the virus. Other countries have joined Guterres in condemning Trump’s decision. According to Al Jazeera, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters on Wednesday that the situation with the pandemic was at a “critical stage”. He believes the halting of U.S. funding would have global effects.
Although questions need to be raised about the handling of the crisis worldwide, the Secretary-General is right to say that now is certainly not the time to do this. At the time of writing, global coronavirus cases are nearing two million and nearly 120,000 deaths. Given this, it is vital that crucial resources are distributed to affected countries across the world. President Trump’s decision to withdraw much-needed funds makes this task all the more difficult. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the U.S. should be leading the global battle against coronavirus by continuing to fund the critical work of WHO.
Since the outbreak of the virus, WHO has trained millions of health workers across the world. It also continues to ensure that vital supplies reach frontline health workers in the poorest and most deprived countries. For instance, according to a UN report on Tuesday, WHO has distributed nearly one million pieces of PPE (personal protection equipment) across war-torn Syria. It has also facilitated the training and support of health workers, who are working in already dangerous environments in conflict zones and refugee camps. UN member states’ contributions are financing this vital work, with some of the wealthiest countries contributing the most (including Japan, Germany, the U.K. and France). The U.S. is the biggest contributor to the WHO budget. Losing this vital source of funding will be detrimental to countries that rely on resources and support from external organizations.
The freezing of U.S. funding to WHO may lead to more preventable deaths worldwide. It may also disproportionately impact poorer countries that lack adequate health infrastructure. WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus summarized the key principle at the heart of the organization earlier this month. He stated that that “health is a right, not a privilege.” World leaders need to work together in solidarity with the international community, not against it, to ensure that every global citizen has equal access to healthcare. The most privileged countries must continue to use their wealth to fund the World Health Organisation’s efforts. This can help towards ending the virus and supporting those most risk.
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