President Trump announced a 60- to 90-day suspension of U.S. funding to the World Health Organization on Tuesday, citing a need to assess what he called the organization’s role in “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
The United States is the WHO’s largest single contributor, with $893 million in funding in its 2018-2019 budget, most of that voluntary; continuing contributions amount to between $400 million and $500 million a year. The announcement was immediately met with criticism from the American Medical Association, philanthropist Bill Gates, and others who said the organization is playing a key role in managing the international health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and that Trump's move is unwarranted.
“Fighting a global pandemic requires international cooperation and reliance on science and data,” AMA President Patrice A. Harris said in a statement. “Cutting funding to the WHO — rather than focusing on solutions — is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world.”
“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Bill Gates tweeted in response to the President’s announcement. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the second single largest contributor behind the U.S. government, with $531 million donated in the last two years, according to information provided by the WHO.
In recent weeks, Trump has been the subject of increasing criticism for his own handling of the country’s response to the pandemic. U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff was particularly critical of the president’s performance, tweeting, “As usual, Trump is looking to deflect blame from his failures.”
There are two categories of WHO contributions: assessed and voluntary. Assessed contributions are the basic membership dues based on a country’s size, wealth, and level of development. Voluntary contributions are non-assessed donations and usually directed to specific causes. The two-year assessed contributions for the United States stand at $237 million for 2018-2019, but the country made an additional $656 million in voluntary contributions over the same period. Of those funds, 27.4 percent are dedicated to polio eradication, while 7.7 percent go to vaccine-preventable diseases. HIV and hepatitis receive the seventh most U.S. funding at 4.65 percent. The WHO provides detailed information on its budget and funding at its website.
Trump did give assurances that funds normally sent to the WHO would be used appropriately rather than shifted to pet projects like the border wall.
“We will be able to take that money and channel it to the areas most needed,” he said during Tuesday's press conference.
Others found little comfort in the president’s words or actions, though, instead noting the international organization was the best means for allocating scarce resources.
“During the worst public health crisis in a century, halting funding to the World Health Organization ... is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier,” warned AMA President Harris.