GENEVA — The World Health Organization went on the defensive Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump blasted the U.N. health body over its recommendations on the coronavirus and threatened to strip hundreds of millions of dollars that had come from its top single donor.
Some African leaders rallied around the WHO’s Ethiopian-born director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who declined to respond to questions about Trump’s specific criticisms and said, "Why would I care about being attacked when people are dying?”
“I know that I am just an individual. Tedros is just a dot in the whole universe. I prefer to really focus on saving lives,” he said at a the WHO's daily media briefing.
The United States contributed nearly $900 million to the World Health Organization's budget for 2018-2019, according to information on the agency's website, an amount that represented one-fifth of the WHO’s total $4.4 billion budget for those years.
The U.S. gave nearly three-fourths of the funds in “specified voluntary contributions” and the rest in “assessed” funding as part of Washington's commitment to U.N. institutions.
A more detailed WHO budget document provided by the U.S. mission in Geneva showed the United States provided $452 million in 2019, including nearly $119 million in assessed funding. In its most recent budget proposal from February, the Trump administration called for slashing the U.S. contribution to the WHO to $57.9 million. At a White House news conference on Tuesday, Trump chided the agency for what he called “China-centric” leanings and said the WHO had “missed the call” on the coronavirus pandemic, notably by advising against travel bans to places like China. Trump initially said the U.S. would “put a hold” on funding for the WHO, and then revised that to say, “We will look at ending funding.”
Some U.S. lawmakers demanded that Tedros resign in order to ensure U.S. funding for the agency.
Asked Wednesday at the WHO's daily briefing in Geneva about the criticism from the U.S., the director-general initially responded by saying he wouldn't answer the question.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said. "We shouldn’t waste time pointing fingers. We need time to unite. ... Let's unite. ... The worst is yet to come if we don’t rush to ensure the unity.”
The agency’s Europe chief insisted a worldwide public health crisis was no time to reduce the budget of the entity working to coordinate an often-disjointed international response.