The WHO should be bolstered, not crippled


No Time to Cut World Health Organization Funding, Secretary-General Stresses, as Member States Battle against Vast COVID-19 Impact
14 April 2020 SG/SM/20045
As I said on 8 April:  “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 socioeconomic consequences.  The World Health Organization (WHO), 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.


Financial Times, 16 April 2020
Opinion – Editorial Board
The WHO should be bolstered, not crippled
Suspending US funding to global health body is grossly irresponsible 
A global pandemic demands a global response. The only international body that can provide that response is the World Health Organization. It is the WHO’s job to track the spread of coronavirus, to share information and advice about best practice, and to help co-ordinate the international response to a common threat to humanity. To cut the WHO off at the knees during the biggest global health emergency for a century is, therefore, grossly irresponsible. Yet that is precisely what Donald Trump’s administration has done, by suspending US funding for the WHO.

As it struggles with this pandemic, the WHO needs more money, not less. It is a sorry state of affairs that the Gates Foundation, a private organisation, is the second-largest donor to the WHO, after the US, and that the Rotarians donate considerably more money to the organisation than the People’s Republic of China.

The fact that the Trump administration is behaving recklessly does not mean that the WHO’s behaviour over coronavirus has been beyond reproach. Far from it. On January 14, the WHO tweeted that there was no “clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the coronavirus — an incautious piece of reassurance that echoed the line being taken by the Chinese government. On January 30, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, praised China for “setting a new standard for outbreak control” — despite the fact that China had intimidated and silenced doctors who had raised the alarm about the pandemic, and initially refused the WHO’s own requests to send observers to Hubei province, where the outbreak began.

Yet weaknesses in the WHO’s response pale in comparison with Mr Trump’s own complacency. As late as February 24, more than a month after the first Covid-19 case had emerged in America, Mr Trump was tweeting that the disease was “very much under control in the US” and urging people to buy into the stock market. The fact that the president is now rounding on the WHO looks like a transparent effort to deflect attention from his own weak response.
Like any UN agency, the WHO needs the support and co-operation of its members. Securing that co-operation is a particularly difficult task when the world’s two most powerful countries — the US and China — are both run by nationalistic presidents, hypersensitive to any slight to their dignity. Mr Tedros’s early praise for China now looks ill-advised. But it was an understandable error, given that the WHO badly needed China’s co-operation.

The real problem was the Chinese government, not the WHO. China’s initial failure to be open about events in Wuhan has been compounded by its obsession with preventing recognition of Taiwan. Yet, despite close links to the mainland, Taiwan has done an admirable job in containing the pandemic and was among the first to warn of human-to-human transmission.
However, if a secretive China exerts excessive influence over the WHO, the answer is not for the US to withdraw. The real solution is for western powers — above all the US and the EU — to work together to improve the organisation. Instead, the Trump administration has treated both the UN and the EU as deeply suspect, belittling and ignoring them. Washington’s neglect and western disunity have allowed the Chinese government greatly to expand its influence within UN agencies.

Restoring US and western influence in those agencies is a key task. But it must wait for calmer times. Right now, the WHO needs to be allowed to get on with its job. The US threat of crippling cuts in its funding must be withdrawn.