U.S. Assault on WHO

17.04.2020 - US, United States - Countercurrents

U.S. Assault on WHO

The United States is unleashing a war against the World Health organization (WHO) as U.S. cuts funding to probe its ‘China ties’. However, the UN Chief has said: “Now is not the time!” The UN chief says WHO is “critical” in global war against Covid-19.

As the pandemic rages on in some 185 countries, the U.S. has escalated a rhetorical offensive on China, blaming Chinese officials for concealing information about the virus from the international community, while pulling the WHO into the fray.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a funding freeze for the health body, accusing it of abetting a Chinese “cover-up” and “severely mismanaging” its response to the pandemic.

The UN, which oversees the WHO, soon shot back, insisting the organization needs all the support it can get now, when thousands of WHO personnel are on the “front lines” of the war against the virus in dozens of countries around the world.

“It is not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization in the fight against the virus,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement, though he refrained from addressing the U.S. or Trump directly.

The WHO and its thousands of staff are fighting the health crisis on the front lines, supporting the most vulnerable nations with “concrete life-saving services,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

The UN Chief said: “It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19.”

While Guterres made no mention of the US, the statement came soon after President Trump announced a pause on the WHO’s funding, freezing up to $500 million in annual aid over concerns that the health body.

U.S. funding will remain on hold as the administration conducts a “review” into the WHO’s actions, Trump said, arguing the agency helped to relay Chinese “misinformation” about Covid-19 and its ability to spread between humans.

The UN chief observed that there would be opportunities to “look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and how all those involved reacted to the crisis,” but only “once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic,” insisting “now is not that time.”

Russian Foreign Minister

Ahead of Trump’s move to halt the WHO’s funding, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned against “attempting to politicize the issue of the coronavirus,” not only when it comes to the WHO, but in terms of accusations against other countries as well.

The Russian FM said: I would advise right now to focus on certain steps to stop the pandemic, its spread, and on minimizing the damage it does, first and foremost to the health and lives of people.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus previously said much the same, urging the U.S. president to stop treating the virus as a political football, warning it could only create “many more body bags” at a time when international cooperation is paramount.

Statement by the Secretary-General on the WHO

Following is the statement of the WHO chief:

As I said on April 8: “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.

The World Health Organization, with thousands of its staff, is on the front lines, supporting Member States and their societies, especially the most vulnerable among them, with guidance, training, equipment and concrete life-saving services as they fight the virus.

It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19.

This virus is unprecedented in our lifetime and requires an unprecedented response. Obviously, in such conditions, it is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities. Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis. The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future.

But now is not that time.”

As it is not that time, it is also 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.

As I have said before, now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.

Trump globally scolded for denying funds to WHO

Nations and medics around the world have blasted U.S. President Donald Trump for defunding the UN’s health agency over alleged pro-Chinese bias. Even the head of America’s own Centers for Disease Control had kind words for the WHO.

Withdrawing the money at a time when the disease is months from being brought under control has caused a global backlash for the U.S., with some commentators more polite than others.

China

China, the WHO’s supposed accomplice in misleading the world and the Trump administration in particular, called on the US to fulfill its obligations to the organization in full.

“China will look into relevant issues according to the need of the situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said when asked if his country would step in to cover the budgetary deficit left by U.S. withdrawal.

EU

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said member states “deeply regret” the funding freeze and that there was nothing to justify the timing of the move.

France

A French government spokesperson confirmed that Paris shared this [EU] sentiment in a statement.

Germany

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that assigning blame would not help beat the virus and said strengthening the UN and its health body was “one of the best investments” at the moment.

Russia

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Trump’s decision was “an expression of the very egoistic approach of the American authorities” to global affairs, while Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian ministry said the U.S. is always finding a scapegoat for its own blunders.

Trump’s domestic critics

This line coincided with one used by Trump’s domestic critics. “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,” said Democratic representative Eliot Engel.

Health professionals

Health professionals at the U.S. and elsewhere were not thrilled about Trump’s decision either.

American Medical Association

The American Medical Association called it ‘a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating Covid-19 easier,” and urged Trump to reconsider.

CDC

The director of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said his agency and the WHO “have had a long history of working together in multiple outbreaks around the world,” and that this cooperation will not be disrupted by Trump’s move.

“We’ve had a very productive public health relationship,” Robert Redfield told ABC. “We continue to have that.”

Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert at the John Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Reuters the defunding was sending “the wrong message during the middle of a pandemic” regardless of what reforms the WHO may need.

Crime against humanity

Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal said the move was “crime against humanity” that every medic should resist. He called on Dr Anthony Fauci, Trump’s leading infectious disease adviser, to correct his boss.

Horton tweeted on April 15, 2020:

“Dear Dr Tony Fauci — President Trump yesterday alleged WHO was guilty of ‘covering up’ the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. He claimed that WHO ‘failed to obtain, vet, and share information.’ You know these statements are untrue. Please correct your President. Please be on the side of truth.

Trump halts WHO funding

An earlier report said:

U.S. President Trump has cut funding for the WHO, insisting the agency be held accountable for its ‘failures’ in responding to the Covid-19 crisis, and accusing it of promoting ‘Chinese disinformation.’

“Today I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the… organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said at a White House briefing on Tuesday, adding that the US has a “duty to insist on full accountability” from the public health body.

Arguing the world health body “failed to obtain, vet and share information in a timely and transparent fashion,” the president said the agency kept vital data under wraps in the early stage of the Covid-19 pandemic for fear of offending authorities in Beijing.

Trump first floated the idea of halting the WHO’s funding last week, accusing the organization of being “China-centric” and vowing to place a “very powerful hold” on funds while the administration assessed its response to the crisis.

The U.S. is the WHO’s top contributor, giving between $400 million and $500 million each year, but the president said there were now “deep concerns” that the money has gone to waste.

The WHO and China maintain that their response to the pandemic has been appropriate and timely, with both releasing timelines detailing their actions step-by-step beginning in late December.

Chinese officials have also repeatedly denied accusations of a “cover up,” insisting health authorities worked with the international community from the very beginning to understand and contain the outbreak in Wuhan.

Addressing President Trump’s previous threat to pull the WHO’s funding, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged him not to “politicize the virus,” warning it would only result in “many more body bags.”

Categories: Health, International, International issues, North America, Politics
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