President Donald Trump drew condemnation from political leaders and health experts across the globe late Tuesday after announcing that he has decided to halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"President Trump's decision to defund WHO is simply this—a crime against humanity," tweeted Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, a U.K.-based medical journal. "Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity."
"Pulling out of the WHO makes America less secure. It makes another pandemic more likely. It only serves Trump’s political interests, as he desperately grasps for a scapegoat to deflect attention from his fatal mishandling of this crisis."
—Sen. Chris Murphy
Trump announced the move, which was widely expected, during a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House Tuesday evening. The president said U.S. funding for the WHO would be placed on hold for 60 to 90 days while the administration conducts a review of the organization's response to the coronavirus crisis. The U.S. contributed $400 million to the WHO in 2019, more than any other nation.
During the press conference, Trump accused the WHO of "severely mismanaging and covering up" the spread of COVID-19 and said the organization "failed to adequately obtain, vet, and share information in a timely and transparent fashion." WHO declared the novel coronavirus a global health emergency on January 30—a time when the U.S. president was still publicly downplaying the severity of the disease and ignoring urgent internal pleas from White House officials to take action.
In a statement following Trump's announcement, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said 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."
"The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most dangerous challenges this world has faced in our lifetime. It is above all a human crisis with severe health and socio-economic consequences," said Guterres. "Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences."
Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, expressed opposition to the U.S. president's move in a tweet Wednesday morning:
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.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) April 15, 2020
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Democratic members of Congress accused Trump of attempting to deflect blame from his own failures by scapegoating the WHO and depriving it of crucial funding in a time of crisis.
"With each passing day of this worsening crisis, the president is showing us his political playbook: blame the WHO, blame China, blame his political opponents, blame his predecessors—do whatever it takes to deflect from the fact that his administration mismanaged this crisis and it’s now costing thousands of American lives," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted that Trump's decision to halt U.S. funding to the WHO "makes America less secure" and "another pandemic more likely."
Pulling out of the WHO makes America less secure. It makes another pandemic more likely.
It only serves Trump’s political interests, as he desperately grasps for a scapegoat to deflect attention from his fatal mishandling of this crisis.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) April 14, 2020
Trump signaled that he was considering suspending U.S. funding to the WHO during a Coronavirus Task Force briefing earlier this month. "I mean, I'm not saying I'm going to do it, but we are going to look at it," the president said at the time.
Following Trump's remarks, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, urged world leaders to "please quarantine politicizing COVID."
"We will have many body bags in front of us if we don't behave," said Tedros. "The United States and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy... When there are cracks at national level and global level that's when the virus succeeds. For God's sake, we have lost more than 60,000 citizens of the world."