Amend or risk withdrawal of US membership: Trump to WHO

After weeks of reprimanding over the poor handling of the COVID pandemic, President Donald Trump has issued a 30-day ultimatum to WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to make “substantive improvement” in the working of the UN agency or lose the US membership and millions of dollars it contributes.In a hard-hitting letter, President Trump said if the changes his administration would want to see are not followed through, the US would permanently exit from the organization. Mr Trump’s sternest message came on a day when the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s governing body, was meeting in Geneva on May 19.  

Allegations in the Letter

Mr Trump criticized the body’s response to the crisis since December. He accused the UN agency of having an “alarming lack of independence” from China. Despite repeated calls for “transparency and corrective actions”, the World Health Organization has “consistently ignored the credible reports” of the virus spreading in Wuhan at the start of December, or even earlier. President Trump cited reports that it delayed an emergency declaration under pressure from President Xi Jinping.

Mr Trump said that the WHO chief could have saved “many lives” had he acted like his predecessor Dr Harlem Brundtland who headed the agency during the Sars outbreak of 2003. President Trump also held the WHO chief responsible for failing to comment on the pandemic-related discrimination against Africans in China. Instead, his agency praised its “transparency” even though it resorted to censorship and did not actively cooperate with other countries, Mr Trump alleged in the letter.

In conclusion, he said that “repeated missteps” by Dr Ghebreyesus and the WHO have proved “extremely costly for the world”. “The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China,” Mr Trump said. According to the US health department, some 1.5 million of the world’s 4.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases were recorded in America, with more than 90,000 deaths.

Addressing the World Health Assembly, US Health Secretary Alex Azar also accused the organisation of letting the virus spin “out of control” at the cost of “many lives”. In response, Dr Ghebreyesus, however, maintained that an independent evaluation would take place “at the earliest appropriate moment”. But he strongly defended the organization that it “didn’t waste time” in declaring the contagious nature of the virus and the likely warm it could cause.

China Rejects Allegations

Beijing has rejected all the US allegations and underlined that it has been closely working with the World Health Organization as per the international protocols for pandemic control and prevention. It also denied any wrong-doing as alleged by the US, such as blacking out information or detention of whistleblowers, in the fight against COVID-19, and asked the US to refrain from making baseless allegations. Earlier this month, China said that it had “all along been in good communication and co-operation” with the WHO and had “never attempted to manipulate the organisation”. In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Zhao Lijian, had said Mr Trump was trying to mislead the public, smear China, and “shift the blame for (the US’s) own incompetent response”. Reaffirming China’s pledge to extend all help to curb the pandemic globally, President Xi Jinping said on May 18 said that any vaccine developed in China would “be made a global public good”.

US Contribution to WHO

The US is the single largest contributor to the World Health Organization, accounting for just less than 15% of its funding in the past financial year. The Trump administration had already temporarily frozen the US funding to WHO earlier this month. However, although Mr Trump’s allegations against China are quite serious, many people see it as a re-election strategy for his second presidential term in November.

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