(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump said he was cutting off U.S. payments to the World Health Organization during the coronavirus pandemic, accusing the organization of failing to do enough to stop the virus from spreading when it first surfaced in China.
Trump, who had telegraphed his intentions last week, claimed the outbreak could have been contained at its source and that lives could have been saved had the U.N. health agency done a better job investigating the early reports coming out of China.
“The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said at a Tuesday briefing. He said the U.S. would be reviewing the WHO’s actions to stop the virus before making any decision on resuming aid.
There was no immediate comment from the Geneva-based organization on Trump’s announcement. But when asked about possible U.S. funding cuts during a regular U.N. briefing earlier Tuesday, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris responded, “Regardless of any issues, our work will go on.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responded to Trump’s announcement by saying now is not the time to end support for the World Health Organization, calling the WHO “absolutely critical” to the global effort to combat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Guterres said that it is possible that different entities read the facts differently but that the appropriate time for a review is “once we have finally turned the page on this pandemic.”
“But now is not that time,” he said, adding that it also is not the time to reduce resources for operations at the WHO or any other humanitarian group that is working to combat the virus.
The United States contributed nearly $900 million to the WHO’s budget for 2018-19, according to information on the agency’s website. That represents one-fifth of its total $4.4 billion budget for those years. The U.S. gave nearly three-fourths of the funds in “specified voluntary contributions” and the rest in “assessed” funding as part of Washington’s commitment to U.N. institutions.
A more detailed WHO budget document provided by the U.S. mission in Geneva showed that in 2019, the United States provided $452 million, including nearly $119 million in assessed funding. In its most recent budget proposal from February, the Trump administration called for slashing the U.S. assessed funding contribution to the WHO to $57.9 million.