The World Health Organization, keen on avoiding discussion of its deep ties to the Chinese government, fired back at President Donald Trump Wednesday morning, warning the president that “now is not the time” to discuss pulling the United States’ ample funding from the nearly useless group.
“We are still in the acute phase of a pandemic so now is not the time to cut back on funding,” the WHO regional director for Europe filed back at Trump Wednesday morning, per CNBC.
The WHO is definitely concerned about the United States’ position on their funding; the American government is the single largest donor to the international health watchdog, with contributions topping $400 million in 2019 alone.
But as the global coronavirus pandemic unfolded, the WHO’s utility has been brought into question, particularly given its deference to official Chinese reports on the virus, which deliberately underplayed COVID-19’s severity and likely delayed appropriate response to the pandemic in the United States and elsewhere.
“They called it wrong. They really — they missed the call. And we’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see,” President Trump said in his daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday. “I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we are going to look at it.”
Trump, unlike many mainstream news organizations, also called out the WHO for its ties to China, laying much of the blame for the global COVID-19 epidemic at the WHO’s feet.
“The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look,” Trump said.
The WHO denies that it took China’s reports at face value, and the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, defended the organization’s deep ties to China, claiming that the WHO treated each country’s reports on the virus with deference and China was no exception and that it was “important” to work with China to “understand” the virus’ impact in Wuhan.
“It was absolutely critical in the early part of this outbreak to have full access to everything possible, to get on the ground and work with the Chinese to understand this,” Ghebreyesus’s top aide Dr. Bruce Aylward told media. “This is what we did with every other hard hit country like Spain and had nothing to do with China specifically.”
The WHO’s ties to China run deep, however. According to Foreign Policy magazine, which published an in-depth look at the connections between the WHO and Chinese officials, the WHO both “receives funding from China and is dependent on the regime of the Communist Party on many levels,” the outlet reported.
[The WHO’s] international experts didn’t get access to the country until Director-General Tedros Adhanom visited President Xi Jinping at the end of January,” according to FP. “Before then, WHO was uncritically repeating information from the Chinese authorities, ignoring warnings from Taiwanese doctors—unrepresented in WHO, which is a United Nations body—and reluctant to declare a ‘public health emergency of international concern,’ denying after a meeting Jan. 22 that there was any need to do so.”