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Foreign Policy

Trump Disappoints the World Again

Apr 29, 2020
  • Fan Gaoyue

    Guest Professor at Sichuan University, Former Chief Specialist at PLA Academy of Military Science

While millions ofpeople around the world are suffering from COVID-19, U.S. President Donald Trump disappointed the world again by announcing a hold on funding for the World Health Organization, using the excuse that the WHO severely mismanaged and covered up the outbreak and It is supposedly, in his words, "China centric.” The action by the United States has seriously impeded WHO operations, impaired cooperation and solidarity of WHO member states in the fight against the coronavirus and put hundreds and thousands of lives in danger. 

Dire need of funding 

The WHO, the global health leader, has always been constrained by money. Assessed contributions are paid by its 194 member states based on their income level and population. Those funds can be spent on general expenses and programs. The WHO uses a two-year budget system and its revenues largely remain static. Its $4.3 billion for 2016-17 has grown slightly to $4.8 billion for 2020-21 — representing about 18 percent of its total yearly revenue.

The WHO also receives voluntary contributions from member states, as well as from private organizations and individuals and earmarked to be put toward a specific initiative. Voluntary funding amounts about 82 percent of its revenue, but it controls less than a third of the money. The rest is determined by its voluntary donors and the WHO can’t move it around to cope with emergencies. 

Even if the WHO wanted to provide more support to poorer countries with fragile, underfunded health systems in the fight against the corona virus, it does not have enough deployable funds to do so. At the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the WHO put forth a strategic plan calling for $675 million.

But rather than stepping up and taking the lead in fulfilling WHO’s funding appeal, Trump announced a hold on funding until after a 60- to 90-day review of its pandemic response — which is really the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

Trump should follow rules

Under WHO rules, the U.S. (the largest sponsor) bears 14.7 percent (2018-19) to 22 percent (2020-21) of the assessed contributions and should pay them on Jan. 1. However, the U.S. still owes the WHO 70 percent of its 2019 contributions and all of its 2020 contribution of $120 million.

As a self-proclaimed world leader, the U.S. should observe WHO rules like other member states and pay assessed contributions to the WHO as agreed. It should lead the G7 and G20 to rapidly fulfill the WHO’s funding appeal. It should cooperate with China to push for a World Health Assembly resolution to double member states’ assessments. It should take the lead in untying its voluntary funding from specific projects and encourage other countries and donors to do the same. And it should support the WHO’s many vital activities in preventing noncommunicable diseases and injuries.

Trump has done none of these things. Instead, he announced, at his sole discretion, a halt to WHO funding.

Is the U.S. still a world leader? Trump’s wrongdoing has made the question sound ridiculous. 

Evaluating the WHO

Trump berated the WHO for being slow to respond to COVID-19 pandemic and criticized its alleged “China-centric” response. Trump is a wealthy businessman, a successful politician and might be a good president, depending on whom you ask, but he is in no position to evaluate the WHO’s response to the coronavirus outbreak because he has no expertise. The outbreak and spread of the coronavirus takes time, and an understanding of how contagious or deadly it is requires careful observation and thorough analyses, not a knee-jerk reaction.

The WHO makes a priority of those places where problems are the most serious. When the epidemic first broke out in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, the WHO naturally laid its emphasis on China. When it burst out on a large scale in Italy and the U.S., the WHO shifted its priorities accordingly. Trump should not politicize the COVID-19 pandemic and slam the WHO according to his personal moods.

A fair evaluation of WHO performance against the COVID-19 epidemic can only be conducted by professionals — scientists, doctors, medical experts and researchers — not by a first-time politician who doesn’t even enjoy majority support in his own country. 

Trump widely slammed 

Aiming to shift the blame for his ineffective response to COVID-19, Trump arbitrarily suspended WHO funding, an irrational move that has been widely criticized.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commented that now is “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said, “We need unity at the national and global levels to fight this pandemic. Rather than placing blame on other countries or the WHO, we need to finally recognize that this novel coronavirus is a common enemy and unite as a global force to overcome it.”

European Union representative Josep Borrell Fontelles wrote: “Deeply regret U.S. decision to suspend funding to WHO. There’s no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain and mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. Only by joining forces we can overcome this crisis that knows no borders.”

Microsoft founder Bill Gates criticized the move as being “as dangerous as it sounds … The world needs WHO now more than ever.”

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blamed Trump for causing “unnecessary deaths.”

China, Germany, Iran, New Zealand and other countries also expressed their deep concerns and requested the U.S. to make good on its commitments and responsibilities.

It’s not too late to mend. If Trump were to restore WHO funding quickly, the U.S. reputation and image might be salvaged.

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