The US President, Donald Trump, has announce that he is halting US funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) due to their response to COVID-19.
Prof Peter Piot, Director and Professor of Global Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest global health challenge facing our societies and economies for more than 100 years. At this critical moment in our history we must stick together. Solidarity is crucial to defeating this virus.
“We need the World Health Organization now more than ever. Its technical expertise, guidance and leadership is supporting countries to implement optimum science-based strategies to prevent and control COVID-19, and will catalyse global action against future health emergencies.
“WHO continues to be on the frontlines of other public health emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For many communities around the world, especially in low and middle income countries, their vital programmes are an essential lifeline.
“Halting funding to the WHO is a dangerous, short-sighted and politically motivated decision, with potential public health consequences for all countries in the world, whether they are rich or poor.
“COVID-19 does not respect borders, and WHO’s support to countries’ responses around the globe, especially the most vulnerable, is more crucial than ever.
“This pandemic is not over anywhere until it is over everywhere. Strong support from the United States has always been key for WHO’s effectiveness, and must continue.”
Dr Gail Carson, Director of Network Development at ISARIC (International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium), and Consultant in Infectious Diseases, University of Oxford, said:
“My understanding from the media is that President Trump has ‘halted’ the financial support to WHO pending a review of their response to the COVID19 pandemic.
“Let’s hope President Trump & the review team realise quickly that now is not the time for division and potentially weakening the UN authority on health who are busy coordinating the global response to the pandemic. Look at facts, and there is plenty evidence of all the good WHO has done during this pandemic. Perhaps, the US reviewers might even come out with recommendations on how WHO could be strengthened and supported more. My plea would be to not make health political particularly at this time.
“We all have to work together to get through this or, the virus will circle the world again. Yes, there will be years of reviews and lessons learned after this but we are not at that stage, we are still acutely responding. Let us remain focused on saving lives by working together as a global community.
“I hope that senior people with much more influence than I contact their counterparts in the US to urge a speedy conclusion to this review and a return to the focus – our communities and their lives.
“As President T. Roosevelt (another Republican) said in 1903:
“The welfare of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us, and therefore in public life that man is best representative of each of us who seeks to do good to each by doing good to all”.
Prof Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University, said:
“The freeze on funding for WHO by the US government is a typically petulant act against an international organization that has sought to maintain its integrity and impartiality rather than to bow to President Trump’s transient and volatile prejudices. While there are fair grounds for debating WHO’s positions and performance, its contribution to maintaining international solidarity and co-ordination, within the limits of the powers granted by its members, cannot be denied. Pandemics do not respect international borders – you cannot build a fence to keep them out, however hard you are pursuing a nationalist agenda. When a vaccine becomes available, the Covid-19 virus will only be eliminated from human populations by the sort of global effort that was required to eliminate smallpox, and which has been mobilized against polio. It is perverse to undermine the capacity of the only organization capable of delivering this result, to the benefit of the US as much as to the rest of humanity.”
Prof Rowland Kao, Sir Timothy O’Shea Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science, University of Edinburgh, said:
“International cooperation is crucial to confronting this crisis. The W.H.O. plays a vital role in coordinating and interpreting the evidence. At the most basic level, this requires a common representation of the data (ideally, the epidemiological reporting should be done in a consistent manner with statistics across countries meaning the same thing) but also coordination of knowledge and approaches to controlling the pandemic. In the absence of coordination, re-opening international contacts becomes a greater risk, and thus also increasing the risk of a second wave of the pandemic even if individual countries get it under control. By removing its support from the W.H.O., both symbolically and financially, the US (also the country with the most severe national epidemic) is compromising that function.”
Dr Joshua Moon, Senior Research Fellow from the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said:
“The funding of the WHO has been in crisis for years, contributing to the somewhat lacklustre early response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In terms of donors to the WHO, the US is the single largest donor so pulling funding could be very damaging to the overall functioning of the organisation. In particular, that is because a very large portion of WHO funding is tied to particular programmes and projects: the second biggest voluntary donor is the Gates Foundation which ties much of its funding to specific programmes, the same is true of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, another late voluntary donor.
“The question of whether others could make up the shortfall depends upon how Trump withdraws funding. If he pulls funding through reallocating the funds already appropriated by Congress, then the funding might be able to be covered by other nations. If, however, he proposes and passes a bill through Congress which pulls WHO funding entirely until an independent review is made then the shortfall will be much bigger and less likely to be covered by other donors. Either way, making up the shortfall is going to be a big issue for WHO, which already runs lean.
“Even if other donors do cover the shortfall, it sets a dangerous precedent for the international community if a state with the resources and power of the US can simply abandon the international community then what chance do other states have? There is also the question of who steps up and what power will that additional funding play in shaping the agenda of WHO in the years to come? The US has always been a key player in agenda-setting for WHO given its position as a donor, so who steps into that vacuum will be a very interesting question indeed.
“WHO declared COVID-19 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30th January 2020. So the idea that this was ’too late’ is patently false and demonstrates just how much of this is a smokescreen for Trump’s own failed and delayed response.
“To see Trump threatening to pull funding from WHO in the middle of a pandemic is truly heartbreaking. The WHO has received so much criticism in the past decade surrounding its role in various public health emergencies. I have been one of those critics myself. However, this attack on WHO is a purely political move designed to distract and pander to Trump’s base.
“At its core: the loss of US funding for WHO is a huge problem that will impact the response to COVID-19 globally, invite new and potentially unaccountable actors into the position of power that the US previous held, and is a contemptible falsehood being peddled by a politician who in my opinion is trying to hide his own mistakes from his supporters.”
Prof David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:
“The strength of WHO is that it is able to bring together public health experts from around the world to exchange information, review scientific evidence, and make evidence based consensus recommendations on disease prevention and control. WHO has continued to function in this manner during the COVID-19 pandemic providing real time guidance as it receives, reviews and analyses scientific evidence in peer reviewed publications and from experts working together virtually, despite the geopolitical tensions that exist in the world. By bringing experts from all countries together informally and through its independent advisory groups WHO is a trusted source of information about the COVID-19 pandemic, and this information is being made available to all countries as they do their own risk assessments and develop their own prevention and control strategies. I have no doubt that WHO will continue to work in this manner during the COVID-19 pandemic as a reliable and trusted source of information and guidance to countries around the world.”
Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said:
“Politically volatile leadership is rarely constructive or helpful at times of crisis. The influence of the USA on global health is very strong. Our University of Southampton-led analysis described how $105 billion has been spent on infectious disease research, and this shows that US-based funders provide 78% of the overall funding. Specifically for coronavirus research, the USA provided 77% of the research investment.
“The WHO role is more taking new knowledge from research and creating policy, guidance, and surveillance. But if the USA acts provocatively over global health and biosecurity, it will become a very big problem. The effects would be seen worldwide, but also rebounding back onto the USA where high-threat pathogens would be more likely to occur in future.
(See https://the-ciru.com/resin-covid19 for coronavirus R&D stats, and see our pre-print (paper under review) analysing $105b of research investment for infection, at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3552831)”
Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said:
“This most recent intervention in public health policy by President Trump is perhaps one of the least productive, most short-sighted, self-motivated and hypocritical acts i have ever witnessed. As far as I can ascertain, it has no foundation in reality.
“I suspect this move has the support of precisely 0% of the US scientific and healthcare communities, and, I would hope, only a small minority of the population as a whole.
“The situation in the US and the world over amounts to a crisis, and one in which we must stand together. WHO is perhaps one of the best means of achieving this and deserves the support and respect of all countries.”
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