April 16, 2020

WHO Funding

“President Donald Trump said Tuesday that 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.” AP News

See our prior coverage of the WHO here. The Flip Side

See past issues

From the Left

The left acknowledges problems with the WHO but sees funding cuts as counterproductive and dangerous.

“Much of what he said the U.N. health group did wrong… mirrors the president's own actions during that same time period… The National Security Council had intelligence by early January of a China outbreak that could threaten the United States, and by the end of the month, Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro was warning of a pandemic that could kill up to half a million Americans. Yet for weeks, Trump dismissed concerns about the pandemic threat and didn't urge social distancing until the middle of March. Moreover, on Jan. 24, Trump tweeted praise for China's handling of the epidemic, including the nation's ‘transparency,’ adding, ‘It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!’”
Editorial Board, USA Today

“Trump says the organization should have been more forthcoming, sounded the alarm louder, chastised and cajoled China into being better than it is. It’s a big ask, one that even the world’s most powerful nations and corporations shy away from in the face of Beijing’s thin skin and economic might

“Does the WHO play ball, so to speak, with China? Absolutely. The organization, for better or worse, is a deeply political body, not necessarily in its intent but in its functioning. It must operate across hundreds of member states, navigating complex political histories and allegiances to remain relevant but also reliable enough to get much-needed information. Without much tangible authority to punish, it must rely on prodding and pleasantries. Ironically, the actual solution to the WHO’s shortcomings exposed by the pandemic is likely more authority, not less. More capacity, not less. But there’s no political will for that, even now when the world’s on fire.”
Elliot Hannon, Slate

“The WHO has handled the coronavirus’s emergence more nimbly than it did Ebola, reflecting the reforms made in the wake of that sluggish and inept response. But there is concern about the praise it has lavished on China and its leadership despite the anxieties over human rights, the length of time it took China to confirm human-to-human transmission and the cover-up of the scale and seriousness of the outbreak in Wuhan by authorities, which allowed Covid-19’s spread within China and abroad. The organisation has treated Taiwan appallingly, thanks to its concern for relations with Beijing… But suggesting that WHO officials are in thrall to China is a facile explanation. The WHO is a membership organisation, with responsibility but not power. It can try to steer member states, but has no sanctions; without sticks, it relies on carrots. It needs China’s cooperation – not least because the precise origins of coronavirus within Wuhan remain unclear.”
Editorial Board, The Guardian

“Many Americans know nothing about the W.H.O., but its worldwide budget (of which the United States pays about one-fifth) is less than that of some American hospital centers. Yet it is charged with fighting Ebola and polio, saving children’s lives and keeping the world safe from pandemics like this one… It developed an effective diagnostic test that is used in dozens of countries, while the United States still cannot manage adequate testing. In late January and in February, the W.H.O. issued increasingly urgent warnings about the coronavirus. Trump ignored them, instead insisting that it was ‘totally under control’… Gutting the W.H.O. will mean more kids dying of malnutrition, more moms dying of cervical cancer, and the coronavirus infecting more people in more countries.”
Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

“In Burundi, a nation of nearly 11 million people, health care workers and communities are bracing for the first wave of coronavirus. A close friend working there estimated they have 10 ventilators. That’s for the entire country… In those places where contagion will be rampant and resources are most scarce, it is the World Health Organization that has boots on the ground and will be a vital partner in saving lives. Its teams will work to flatten the curve from Burundi to Bolivia, and in so doing, help prevent the continued transmission of the novel coronavirus across borders. They will stymie the progression of second waves like those we are actively suppressing in Asia. And they will keep the disease from coming back to America’s shores, where we have already sacrificed so much to defeat it.”
Dr. Craig Spencer, USA Today

From the Right

The right supports suspending the funding, arguing that the WHO must be significantly reformed or replaced.

The right supports suspending the funding, arguing that the WHO must be significantly reformed or replaced.

“The White House has made well-publicized mistakes, but that doesn’t absolve the United Nations agency… A more reasonable question is whether withholding funding amid a pandemic will do more harm than good. By some estimates only about 15% of the WHO budget is dedicated to pandemic response. After Dr. Tedros shrugged off Mr. Trump’s criticism last week, withholding funds can focus minds at the top of the agency without endangering work being done now

“Another worry is that China will increase its dominance at WHO if the U.S. reduces its financial commitments. But WHO statements now frequently follow Beijing’s line, which is why Chinese propaganda outlets tout them so often. With China’s preferred director-general criticizing Washington and praising Beijing as a model, what influence does the U.S. have to lose?”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“The agency has yet to say a word about China’s misinformation. By blindly believing Beijing’s claims, the WHO wasted precious days, in which a pandemic went from possible to inevitable. Even its declaration of a pandemic on March 11 came far too late, when the virus had already spread to 114 countries. A month later, the WHO still shows no signs of admitting its errors, much less questioning China. There is no word about the mounting evidence that Beijing continues to falsify its illness and death counts, no suspicion at China’s unlikely claims of no new coronavirus cases for days in a row…

“The United States should continue to withhold funding from the agency until it is seriously reformed. At the very least, its leadership should be removed, China should be suspended from full membership, and Taiwan admitted.”
Marion Smith, The Federalist

“Defenders of the organization often argue that the WHO can only do what it is empowered to do; and that limits its ability to question the claims made by member states like China. If so, that’s all the more reason for the U.S. to demand accountability for the hundreds of millions of dollars we send to the WHO. The organization should be reformed from within, so that it has the authority to conduct independent and rigorous examinations of claims made by its members – particularly when millions of lives are potentially at risk…

“While American funding to the WHO is paused, President Trump should convene a panel of public health experts both within and outside of government… The panel should make recommendations regarding organizational improvements, but might also look for ways for the U.S. to work with other international organizations, or countries around the world, to promote public health. Indeed, if the WHO is broken beyond repair, it may ultimately be time for us to consider creating a new organization to do the important work of improving health outcomes and preventing disease around the world.”
Lanhee Chen, Fox News

“Some admit WHO’s bungling but insist that the agency is needed now to coordinate the world response. But the world is better off coordinating without the ‘help’ of an agency that’s been packed with Beijing loyalists ever since 2006… This is not a permanent end to that US funding: It’s a wake-up call that WHO must clean house to become truly non-political before it can be trusted with its official mission: ‘To promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.’”
Editorial Board, New York Post

Some argue that “if Trump’s brinksmanship succeeds in getting WHO officials to force China to be more transparent, then a brief suspension of funding will do a world of good. If, on the other hand, other countries step in to make up the funding shortfall, then Trump will have isolated and embarrassed the U.S. on the world stage…

“Trump is correct that the WHO has failed to perform one of its most important functions: Serving as the world’s early-warning system for new infectious diseases. But his anger is misdirected. It is China that is still not being fully transparent about the outbreak. The problem is that Trump has fewer options and less leverage with China, which is a crucial link in the medical supply chain for the U.S. and much of the world. The result is that, for the moment, the WHO is being punished for China’s deceptions.”
Eli Lake, Bloomberg

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