President Donald Trump’s move to halt funding to the World Health Organization has been met with severe criticism at home and abroad, with the United Nations secretary-general saying “now is not the time” for such a drastic move while the coronavirus pandemic is gripping the globe.
Trump made the announcement Tuesday pending a review of the WHO’s response to the initial coronavirus outbreak in China. Congressional Democrats are disputing the president’s authority to do this.
“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, which is spearheading and coordinating the global body’s efforts,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement Tuesday.
“Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them,” Gates tweeted. “The world needs the WHO now more than ever.”
China meanwhile expressed “deep concern” about Trump’s announcement, its foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a briefing.
“As the most authoritative and most professional organization, the World Health Organization has played an irreplaceable role in global public health crisis,” he said. “The decision of the U.S. will undercut the ability of the WHO and damage the global cooperation of fighting the epidemic.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted similar misgivings.
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Deeply regret US decision to suspend funding to @WHO. There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain & mitigate the #coronavirus pandemic. Only by joining forces we can overcome this crisis that knows no borders.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that ascribing blame “does not help” because “the virus knows no borders. We have to closely work together.”
And Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal, has described Trump’s move as “a crime against humanity.” He tweeted that “every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity.”
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, called the decision “deeply regrettable.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said that “at time like this when we need to be sharing information and we need to have advice we can rely on. The WHO has provided that.”
The U.S. is the largest contributor to the WHO out of 196 countries, accounting for roughly 15 percent of the agency’s budget. It sent more than $57.8 million earlier this year and also contributes additional money to special projects.
Trump has accused the WHO of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the coronavirus crisis, specifically the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China. He also claimed that the WHO “pushed China’s misinformation about the virus … and there was no need for travel bans.”
He took particular issue with the agency’s criticism of his order to temporarily deny entry to the U.S. by most foreign nationals who had recently been in China. The order was issued Jan. 31, when China was the center of the pandemic.
The president claimed that the WHO “pushed China’s misinformation about the virus … and there was no need for travel bans.”
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The organization was informed of the first cases on Dec. 31. The next day the agency requested information from Chinese officials, and the Wuhan market where the outbreak is believed to have originated was closed for disinfection, according to a WHO report.
Then, on Jan. 30, the organization declared a global health emergency, as the number of cases hit 10,000.
Trump’s move to halt funding for the agency that oversees international public health has raised questions about whether it could affect efforts by other countries to curtail coronavirus cases.
Dr. Patrice Harris, the president of the American Medical Association, excoriated the president in a statement Tuesday for making the move “during the worst public health crisis in a century.”
“Cutting funding to the WHO — rather than focusing on solutions — is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world,” Harris said. “The AMA is deeply concerned by this decision and its wide-ranging ramifications, and we strongly urge the President to reconsider.”
Alexander Smith is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital based in London.