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May 05 2020
Donald Trump’s decision to halt US funding to the World Health Organisation could have devastating consequences, especially in the developing world
By Chen Dongxiao,Shao Yuqun

US President Donald Trump announced the suspension of American funding to the World Health Organisation last month, pending a review of the international health body’s mismanagement, cover-ups and failures in the unfolding coronavirus crisis.

This reckless announcement follows the release of a G20 joint statement on March 27 which called for worldwide concerted efforts to “close the financing gap in the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

The Trump administration’s move against the WHO is as anachronistic as it is anti-intellectual. Defunding this multilateral health body, which is the backbone of the fight against Covid-19, will put the health and safety of hundreds of millions of people in the developing world in greater peril. In this sense, Trumps foolhardy decision goes against humanity.

A specialised United Nations agency founded in 1948 and now with 194 member states, the WHO is designed to promote the highest standard of human health by playing the dual role of pre-eminent information hub and chief coordinator in times of global health emergencies. Even as the world is locked in a fight to contain the spread of the coronavirus, other public health threats, such as the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, continue unabated.

Indeed, the WHO is facing multiple challenges, ranging from capacity building in the allocation of international resources to forging partnerships with a growing number of actors in global public health governance.

Nevertheless, the guidance and help the WHO provides are indispensable, especially to the developing world. No other organisation in the UN system, or elsewhere, can fulfil these functions. Neither can the United States set up a new specialised institution in its place overnight.

At this critical moment, keeping up the WHO’s aid operations across the world, rather than reducing its resources, is the only proper course of action.

As one of the very first signatories to the WHO constitution, the US has long been the most generous patron of the organisation. US largesse accounts for 34 per cent of total voluntary funds for public health emergency response, 16 per cent of humanitarian aid funds, and 22 per cent of assessed national dues, significantly more than any other nation in each measure.

An abrupt halt in US government funding is certain to hobble the WHO’s antivirus efforts, including funds for frontline health workers and investment in medical research.

Far from being kept in check in the West, Covid-19’s march is now threatening the developing world in Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East, where under-resourced and understaffed health services make virus containment far more difficult.

With the global death toll at more than 240,000 and with over 3 million confirmed cases worldwide, if the pandemic far outpaces local containment efforts in the most vulnerable regions of the world, deaths could number in the millions.

If the flows of global trade and travel cannot be restored to pre-crisis levels, the economies of developing and underdeveloped nations will be dealt a devastating blow. The International Monetary Fund projects that the global economy will contract sharply, by 3 per cent in 2020, because of the pandemic.

Even if the vast developing world is largely spared mass infections, life for the poor populations across the world will only get harder in the global recession that is almost certain to follow the coronavirus crisis.

When the lives and safety of hundreds of millions of people around the world are threatened by a microscopic enemy that cannot be stopped by borders or bullets, the fastest way to defeat it is to form the broadest possible global coalition to pool resources and coordinate actions. Instead of arguing over who is to blame and who should wield greater influence in the WHO, the world’s focus should be on life itself.

Just as addressing global health threats along the lines of great power competition is misguided, freezing WHO funding on the fabricated grounds that the organisation is doing China’s bidding is anti-intellectual. Domestic and international resistance and rebukes quickly followed Trumps reckless move.

The American Medical Association called the decision “a dangerous step in the wrong direction. Dr Tom Inglesby, director of Johns Hopkins Universitys Centre for Health Security, said now was the worst time to undermine WHO efforts by cutting off its funding and the US would be worse off because of it.

Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, tweeted: “President Trumps decision to defund WHO is simply this a crime against humanity. Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity.

In a thinly veiled rebuke to Trump, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates tweeted : “Halting funding for the World Health Organisation during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds.

Even Washington’s European allies have lined up behind the WHO. Britain has pledged £65 million (US$81 million) in funding to the WHO. The European Union also plans to provide additional funds for the WHOs virus response and is working on mitigating the ramifications of Trumps decision.

To counter the impact of an unscrupulous Trump administration acting with complete disdain for global public opinion, the WHO needs stronger international support in its effort to contain the pandemic.

Source of documents:SCMP, May 5, 2020