Trump Stops U.S. Funding for World Health Organization, Alleging Mismanagement Over Coronavirus

The president has faced similar criticism for the way he has dealt with the pandemic in the United States

coronavirus briefing
President Donald Trump. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he was halting funding from the United States to the World Health Organization, claiming that the United Nations agency mismanaged the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Trump, 73, said that a review will take place to “assess” the WHO’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

“Today, I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said during the White House’s daily press briefing Tuesday.

“Everybody knows what’s going on there,” said Trump, who has faced similar criticism for the way he has dealt with the pandemic.

White House aide Kellyanne Conway said on Wednesday that the funding was on “pause.”

In a statement, a WHO adviser called the move “self-defeating lunacy.”

“Like many other organizations and states, the WHO made mistakes during this crisis that must all be reviewed carefully, thoughtfully, and urgently,” said Jamie Metzl, who is a member of an advisory committee on genome editing. “It is clear with the benefit of hindsight that the WHO also made mistakes, particularly early on. But Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and others responded far faster and more effectively than the United States based the same information from the WHO.”

“Just as we wouldn’t imagine having a plane crash and not immediately trying to figure out what happened, we can’t let the COVID19 crisis unfold without urgently understanding how our systems have so spectacularly failed,” Metzl said. “There are plenty of fingers to point and we must thoughtfully point them now — at all of us — for our own good.”

On Tuesday Trump said, “One of the most dangerous and costly decisions from the WHO was its disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations.”

He was referring to his Jan. 31 executive order blocking U.S. entry to people who had been in China within two weeks. “They were very much opposed to what we did,” he said of the WHO.

Days before that order, on Jan. 24, Trump praised Chinese president Xi Jinping on Twitter, thanking the leader for his “transparency” about the outbreak.

“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” Trump wrote. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

On Tuesday, Trump blamed countries that did not restrict travel to and from China for the “accelerated” spread of the virus.

“Other nations and regions followed WHO guidelines and kept their borders open to China accelerated the pandemic around the world,” he said. “The WHO’s attack on travel restrictions put political correctness above life-saving measures.”

Travel bans work for the same reason that quarantines work,” Trump continued, adding that “border control is fundamental to virus control.” On March 11, Trump placed a similar ban on travel to the U.S. from several European countries.

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Trump said that he questions whether the financial contributions of the U.S. to the WHO have “been put to the best use possible” — hence the pending review.

“Since its establishment in 1948, the American people have generously supported the World Health Organization to provide better health outcomes for the world and most importantly to help prevent global health crisis,” he said. “With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible.”

“The reality is that the WHO failed to adequately obtain, vet, and share information in a timely and transparent fashion,” Trump continued. “The world depends on the WHO to work with countries to ensure that accurate information about international health threats is shared in a timely manner and if it’s not, to independently tell the world the truth about what is happening.”

According to the Associated Press, the organization drew widespread support this week (including from Bill Gates) in the wake of the president’s comments.

“The reason we’re making such fast progress on diagnostics, vaccines and drugs is because of WHO’s role as a neutral broker,” Oxford University professor Trudie Lang told the AP. “It’s their role to bring together the best science.”

The news outlet noted, however, that the organization has been supportive of China’s approach to the virus outbreak — in which China drastically slowed infections by forcing mass shutdowns — even as the AP found that Chinese officials initially delayed speaking out about the health threat.

Trump said that the WHO “failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable,” saying, “It’s time after all these decades.”

However, many have criticized Trump for the very same reason — for failing to obtain, vet and share information about COVID-19 in a timely and transparent fashion with the American people, and he previously downplayed the seriousness of the virus compared to the seasonal flu.

Trump has also been accused of xenophobia for calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” against the backdrop of multiple reported instances of violence against Asians as the illness has spread.

“The world received all sorts of false information about transmission and mortality,” Trump said Tuesday — although he downplayed projected mortality rates based on a “hunch” during a March appearance on Fox News.

Also on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted Trump for his handling of the pandemic, writing in a letter to her democratic colleagues that the president ignored warnings about COVID-19, “took insufficient action and caused unnecessary death and disaster.”

“The truth is a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility,” Pelosi wrote. “A weak person blames others.”

As of Tuesday, there were at least 606,800 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and more than 25,900 deaths. There are nearly two million cases worldwide.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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