Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Here is why Trump’s decision to pause WHO funding may be a good thing

The Trump administration’s recent decision (link) to withhold funds for World Health Organization (WHO), is generating a tremendous amount of media attention.  This week, the American president tried to blame the WHO for its role in COVID-19
“failing to adequately investigate early information about the virus’s ability to spread from one human to another and for not calling out China on its alleged lack of transparency over the virus.” During a news conference at the White House, Mr. Trump said “The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable. So much death has been caused by their mistakes.”

To be fair, the United States is a major donor to the UN and WHO. According to the world body, top voluntary contributors include United States of America, United Nations, Republic of Korea, Australia, Gates Foundation, Japan and European Commission. In 2017, America made over $100 contributions. (link: WHO) In addition, over $400 voluntary contributions were made from the United States.

It’s too early for finger pointing

To be fair, the WHO has been at the front and center in tracking the progress of COVID-19. After a couple of months of closely tracking the outbreak of the virus, the WHO announced on 11th March it was upgrading COVID-19 to a Pandemic
“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. 
Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.” 

The day WHO upgraded COVID-19 to pandemic there were about 1629 cases in America as per the CDC. President Trump also announced a ban on travel from Europe on 11th March, and followed up with a National emergency declaration on March 13th

Source: CDC

The trump administration is under tremendous pressure as the number of cases in the US escalate and the response has been patchy. They are looking for points of failure and perhaps a scapegoat. After initial attempts to call it a “China virus” backfired (link), the world health body is emerging as a convenient scapegoat.

Who is WHO?

Trump’s move may turn out to be a good thing as headlines on the decision to pause WHO funding generates a renewed attention on the role of the world health body in the modern world order. Trump’s announcement on WHO is also stirring a political debate in America, which will also generate interest among Americans. The average American Joe and Jane, who hadn’t heard of WHO will be curious to know more about the world body.

While America donates over $100 million of WHO’s $2+ Billion budget, it is not the only donor. All these headlines continue to generate interest in WHO and its activities, which in turn will lead to other donors stepping in. Large global donors like the Gates Foundation with billions at its disposal can easily make up the shortfall if America backs out of its commitment.

The risk of not contributing its dues to the world body is greater for America. By not donating, America and its researchers risk losing their standing. Part of the aid to world bodies comes in the form of contributions in kind, including time and experience of American doctors, researchers and CDC. Such experiences are mutually enhanced by collaboration between researchers; and the world will be a better place if American researchers and CDC continue to collaborate with their global peers.


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