WASHINGTON — President Trump said Tuesday that the United States would halt funding to the World Health Organization, the global health agency that has been a leading voice in coordinating the world’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The shocking announcement appears to be in response to Trump’s anger over the WHO’s criticisms of U.S. policy.

“They’ve been wrong about a lot of things,” Trump said. “We’re going to put a hold on money [sent] to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it.”

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Later in the briefing, Trump said his announcement was not a decision to end all U.S. funding for the agency, but rather a chance to give his administration the chance to “look at it.” The WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. has provided the agency with $893 million during the agency’s current two-year funding period, which includes about $236 million in dues. That funding accounts for about 14.67% of the WHO’s total funding, according to the organization’s website. The WHO is also notoriously cash-strapped; the annual dues members companies pay to support its annual budget have been frozen for more than a decade.

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The WHO has been sounding the alarm over the coronavirus since early January. By late February the group’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged countries to prepare — before the U.S. had widespread community transmission of the virus. The WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11.

On Tuesday evening, Trump insisted that the WHO “called it wrong” when it came to Covid-19.

“They really called every aspect wrong,” he said. “They said there’s no big deal, there’s no big problem.”

Trump also lashed out at the WHO for criticizing his decision in January to block travel to the U.S. from certain countries. Officials at the agency never explicitly criticized that decision.

“They actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it, and they were wrong,” Trump said.

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Public health experts did criticize Trump’s initial travel bans, suggesting they can make responding to an outbreak more challenging. While officials at the WHO did not call out either the U.S. or other countries’ bans, they have advised against travel bans in this pandemic, as in past outbreaks, because they can “divert resources from other interventions,” according to agency guidelines dated Feb. 29.

It’s also unclear whether Trump’s travel ban was successful, as he claims. While public health experts have suggested it may have bought the U.S. time to prepare for the pandemic, it did not stop cases from arriving in the U.S. And many believe the U.S. squandered the extra time it bought.

Tom Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, who is tracking Covid-19 cases globally, suggested the same was true for this pandemic, in a series of tweets on Tuesday.

“Travel bans neither stopped the spread of this novel coronavirus nor prevented it from becoming a pandemic,” Bollyky said on Twitter.

Jimmy Kolker, a longtime U.S. diplomat and former assistant secretary for global affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, called Trump’s hold on funding “counterproductive to our interests as well as to global health,” and “unethical.”

“If the U.S. abandons that leadership, there’s a real risk that other countries will take the easy way out and say, ‘Well, my contribution is going to be insignificant because the U.S. isn’t paying, so why should I bother?'” he said. “It’s not going to achieve any result that he or others have connected to this in terms of how China has behaved.”

The announcement, which came during Trump’s daily press briefing Tuesday evening, came following a tweet criticizing the WHO earlier in the day.

“The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s claims that the WHO is “China-centric” are the latest in a growing trend of conservative criticisms waged at the organization. Trump’s remarks come on the heels of the calls in late March for an investigation into the WHO by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). 

Helen Branswell contributed reporting. 

  • Why stop funding the WHO (When needs it) most for been lead incompetently in its handling of the COVI-19 explosion rather than enhance the competence of its handling of the same through a progressive change of its leadership?!

  • How is 14% of total funding compatible with the statement “the WHO is largely funded by the USA”?

    • “The U.S. has provided the agency with $893 million during the agency’s current two-year funding period.”
      It means Us contributes about 500 millions/year. China contributes only 44 millions/year.

  • The U.S. has not made a WHO contribution for three years. As such, the threat is another meaningless gesture.

  • I feel that the federal government has it own private agendas. They could have acted faster, when having such information on January 3rd. Our New York local office Governor Cuomo has done an outstanding job on everything!!! And on top of that he doesn’t lie to us the people.

    • The Feds have screwed up very badly. After Chinese Communist Party officials around Wuhan, Xi JinPing, and maybe Tedros, our own (US) Federal government has screwed up the US the most – and there is no doubt Trump screwed up and was very badly out of touch at the beginning, and has not yet caught up- disastrous.
      But if you look back at Cuomo’s resistance to shelter in place, quarantine, closing the schools, and so on, it is very clear he was actually behind Trump in reacting with requirements people change their actual behavior. He repeatedly did the blustery New York thing just like Trump and made things vastly worse than they should have been.
      I know he talks like he is in touch, does not lie/BS and so forth, but his actual actions were – no action – I think you would be pretty much at the same point in NY if Trump had been governor, and maybe even worse in the US overall if Cuomo had been President.

  • This is this century’s best example of the pot calling the kettle black : Trump has lengthily and forcibly down-played so many warnings, he has been late with shelter in place and accepting the need for PPEs and ventilators – the tardiness list is long. And now he kicks the WHO for similar offenses???? This is not only ridiculous, it is also very worrisome : the unwillingness of this clown to listen, to co-operate and to work with other nations makes this man very, very dangerous.

    • I am not defending Trump’s failures, but the WHO is probably more at fault than anyone but the deeply evil Chinese Party and government officials who made the Chinese doctors destroy their research. The US needs to go it’s own way with pandemic monitoring and cut money to WHO until and unless they can be fixed – BUT – I object to the timing of any cuts now – bad as they have been I presume most of their workers are now fighting the pandemic correctly, and they need help not attacks.

  • Why didn’t you mention all the criticism against WHO in this pandemic. Their reliance on Chinese official about lack of evidence for human to human transmission. Why didn’t you mention the report claiming China has silenced the physician and few journalist who alarmed the government about the new virus. Why didn’t you mention that the US intelligence believes China did cover up the virus early on which would make a huge difference in battling the virus. And beyond all WHO kept praising China and ignore all the report coming out of China.
    Why didn’t you discuss how travel ban is not effective, how letting hundreds thousands of people flying into country and put testing burden on the airport is better way that just temporary blanket travel ban.
    I understand in Trump era we have to criticize every move of his but is it worth it to jeopardize our rational thinking and integrity?

    • The President has made references to the corona virus as being at war. I have no problem with that reference except we have always attempted to fight our battles on foreign soil by using our intelligence. He has failed in preparation and allowed the enemy to come to the US by dismissing his intelligence as a hoax and putting his re-election above the interest of the country’s.

  • I agree:
    Per Tedros,”My short message is please quarantine politicizing COVID – the unity of your country will be very important to defeat this dangerous virus. Without unity we assure you even any country that may have a better system will be in more trouble. That’s our message,” he said.

    So, why doesn’t WHO accept Taiwan as a member and read Taiwan’s early warning about human to human transmission of the virus? Is it not politic?
    Even if they can not verify what China said, they can tell other countries that information is from China which WHO can not verify.

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