WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump formally announced Tuesday that the United States will freeze funding to the World Health Organization, pending a formal investigation into the global health agency and its coronavirus response.
In prepared remarks, Trump accused the organization of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” suggesting that the group overly relied on unverified reports from China, which Trump argued caused a “twenty-fold increase in cases worldwide.” He did not cite a source for that figure.
“America and the world have chosen to rely on the WHO for accurate, timely, and independent information to make important public health recommendations and decisions. If we cannot trust that this is what we will receive from the WHO, our country will be forced to find other ways to work with other nations to achieve public health goals,” Trump said.
The World Health Organization, however, has publicly warned about the potential spread of the coronavirus since January, and publicly warned countries in February to prepare for widescale spread of the virus.
The move comes following Trump’s threat last week to freeze funding to the notoriously cash-strapped organization, which has coordinated global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. has provided roughly 15%, or $893 million, of the WHO’s total funding over its current two year-budget period, according to the organization’s website.
Trump hinted the government would instead direct the same funding to other global health initiatives, though exactly where that money will go is unclear.
Much of Trump’s ire toward the WHO appears to be the result of the organization’s skepticisms toward the use of travel bans. Trump claimed Tuesday that the WHO “fought” the U.S. over its travel ban, although the WHO has never publicly criticized the U.S. policy by name. Instead, the WHO has long advised countries against use of travel bans because they divert resources from other public health interventions. Those recommendations are based on international health regulations that the U.S. government, among others, helped draft in 2005.
But during a press conference Tuesday evening, Trump expanded his criticisms of the organization. For nearly 10 minutes, Trump rattled off purported failures of the WHO in responding to the coronavirus.
“So much death has been caused by their mistakes,” Trump said.
Like Trump, conservatives in Congress and in the Trump administration have criticized the WHO for trusting data the Chinese government has published regarding the coronavirus crisis there.
Sen. Martha McSally (Ariz.) tweeted last Tuesday that “the WHO has acted as a propaganda arm for the Chinese government,” and recently called for WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to resign. Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.) has criticized the WHO for continuing to deny membership status to Taiwan, a largely sovereign state over which China claims control. Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.) has called for a congressional investigation into the “World Health Organization’s role in helping Communist China cover up information” regarding the pandemic.
Conservative-leaning news outlets have also excoriated the WHO. Many attacks have focused on a Jan. 14 tweet from the official WHO account, which said “investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” — a claim Chinese state media recanted within a week.
Lev Facher contributed reporting.