Health and Healthcare Systems

WHO officials respond to US funding halt: ‘We regret the decision’

Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, attends a news conference on the coronavirus (COVID-2019) in Geneva, Switzerland February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RC237F9DRVD9

Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • At a briefing on 15 April 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization said he regretted the US decision to halt funding to the agency.
  • The US has historically been the WHO's top donor.
  • The WHO said it would reassess its performance and budget to ensure its work fighting COVID-19 and other diseases continues uninterrupted.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials responded to news that the United States would temporarily halt funding to the agency at a briefing today.

“We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in funding to the World Health Organization,” said Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

President Donald Trump announced yesterday the United States would suspend funding, accusing the WHO of mismanaging its response to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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The WHO is funded by fees from its 194 member states, as well as voluntary contributions. Voluntary contributions comprise nearly three-quarters of the agency’s financing and are often earmarked for specific initiatives.

According to the WHO’s website, the US has been the agency’s top benefactor, accounting for more than 14% of the agency’s financing at around $400 million a year. Other top donors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, a public-private health initiative committed to immunization in poor countries.

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At the briefing, WHO officials highlighted the early actions the agency had taken to respond to the coronavirus outbreak as early as last December, when the public health authority in Wuhan, China first reported a cluster of atypical pneumonia cases. Within days, the WHO reported the cluster on social media and by 10 January had published technical guidance for countries on how to cope with the virus.

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In the months since, the WHO has developed online training sessions for health workers, organized a clinical trial with more than 90 countries to test for safety of certain drugs and facilitated a task force to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) across the globe.

COVID-19 is just one disease the organization is tackling. As the Director-General noted, the WHO responds to other diseases and conditions around the world such as polio, measles, malaria, Ebola, HIV, tuberculosis, malnutrition and more.

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The WHO said its customary process of independent reviews would assess its performance and identify any strengths and weaknesses in how the agency managed the spread of the new coronavirus.

It also said it would review its current funding capabilities and work with partners to fill any financial gaps to ensure the agency’s work continues uninterrupted. “For now, our focus, my focus, is on stopping this virus and saving lives,” said the Director-General. “The WHO is getting on with the job.”

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