Just hours after President Trump announced his intention to cut off U.S. funding for the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus crisis, the leader of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demurred when asked if the global health agency had failed and if it was wise to halt funding the midst of a pandemic.
“CDC and WHO has had a long history of working together in multiple outbreaks throughout the world, as we continue to do in this one,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said Wednesday on “Good Morning America.” “And so, we’ve had a very productive public health relationship. We continue to have that.”
“So they didn’t fail?” anchor George Stephanopoulos then asked.
“I’d like to do the postmortem on this outbreak once we get through it together,” Redfield replied.
CDC Director weighs in on whether the WHO failed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and if it's wise to suspend funding during the crisis, telling @GStephanopoulos "I'd like to do the postmortem on this outbreak once we get through it together." https://t.co/PrZRMwCBwK pic.twitter.com/hCQdzualrU
— Good Morning America (@GMA) April 15, 2020
Redfield’s appearance on the show came after Trump on Tuesday signaled the United States would halt its financial support of the WHO, pending an investigation into the agency and its response to the coronavirus outbreak. Trump accused the agency of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
The United States has provided roughly 15% of the WHO’s total funding over its current two-year budget period.
In a way, Redfield’s comments align with what WHO officials have been arguing as the criticism from Trump and some congressional Republicans has picked up in the past two weeks. They have said no response from any agency is perfect, and that’s why the WHO had a tradition of commissioning reviews of its handling of outbreaks after the emergencies ebbed.
The WHO has a press briefing scheduled for 11 a.m. Eastern Wednesday, during which they will almost certainly address Trump’s announcement Tuesday.
At recent briefings, WHO officials did not directly criticize Trump for last week proposing the suspension of U.S. support for the agency, but Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that politicizing the pandemic would allow the virus to “exploit” societies and would lead to “many more body bags.” (The WHO has generally avoided publicly criticizing its member states by name during the coronavirus crisis.)
“For now, the focus should be on fighting this virus,” Tedros said last Wednesday.
Trump’s announcement Tuesday set off almost universal condemnation among public health experts and advocates, who warned that halting U.S. funding for the global agency could compound whatever problems exist, particularly during a crisis. Trump suggested that the money the United States sent to WHO might go to other global health organizations, but experts say no other group has the scope and relationships that WHO does.
In uncharacteristically barbed (and identical) tweets, Bill and Melinda Gates warned that “halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of Covid-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them.”
Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.
— Melinda Gates (@melindagates) April 15, 2020
The Trump administration’s criticisms of the WHO have included its praise of China’s response and transparency in the early days of the pandemic, which raised eyebrows even among some supporters of the agency as it became clear that China sought to silence whistleblowers and minimize the severity of the crisis early on.
Trump, who dismissed the threat of the virus for weeks despite receiving warnings from experts within his administration, has also tried to claim the WHO was slow to alert the world about the nefariousness of the virus.
Without alluding to Trump, WHO officials have in the past week outlined all they had done since Chinese officials informed them of a pocket of unexplained pneumonia cases on Dec. 31. Tedros and other WHO leaders have pointed out the agency notified all its member states of the outbreak on Jan. 5 and issued guidance for preventing infections starting on Jan. 10. Those guidances raised the possibility of human-to-human and airborne transmission of the respiratory pathogen and included steps for protecting health care workers.