President Trump threatens to permanently pull funding from WHO and ‘reconsider’ US membership

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President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, left, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listen. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump late Monday threatened to permanently pull US funding from the World Health Organization if it does not “commit to major substantive improvements in the next 30 days.”

In a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, President Trump said, “It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world. The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China.

“My administration has already started discussions with you on how to reform the organization. But action is needed quickly. We do not have time to waste.”

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 90,000 Americans and more than 318,000 people worldwide as of late Monday and, while there are promising signs from some vaccine trials, there is no cure for the virus.

Monday’s letter on official White House letterhead, screenshots of which were posted to Twitter, assails the WHO’s stance toward China throughout the pandemic and lists a series of allegations that the organization overlooked warning signs.

“I cannot allow American taxpayer dollars to continue to finance an organization that, in its present state, is so clearly not serving America’s interests,” the President wrote.

Trump specifically criticized the WHO for “political gamesmanship” for praising China’s strict domestic travel restrictions while being “inexplicably against my closing of the United States border.”

He went on to highlight the WHO’s reaffirmation of “China’s now-debunked claim that the coronavirus could not be transmitted between humans.”

The move comes after Trump temporarily halted funding to the organization last month.

“The US funds $400 million to $500 million to the WHO each year,” Trump said at the time, noting that China “contributes roughly $40 million.”

“Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China’s lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death,” Trump said then.

Tedros responded at the time by affirming that the WHO will continue working with other countries and argued that unity is key to fighting the coronavirus.

WHO has defended response

Critics have questioned whether the WHO is independent enough, given China’s rising wealth and power. They point to the WHO’s effusive praise of China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Agency officials have defended their early actions when it came to fighting the coronavirus, noting that much was unknown about the virus back in January.

“When WHO issued its first guidance to countries, it was extremely clear that respiratory precautions should be taken in dealing with patients with this disease, that labs needed to be careful in terms of their precautions and taking samples, because there was a risk that the disease could spread from person to person in those environments,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, said at a news conference last month.

“All of our guidance that was out before we did that press conference (on January 14) was about limiting exposure to people and to prevent transmission, particularly in health care settings,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO infectious diseases epidemiologist, said last month, noting that the WHO’s guidance issued on January 10 and 11 was about respiratory droplets and contact protection.

Ryan said the WHO alerted the world to the new disease on January 5, allowing health systems around the world, including the US, to begin activating their incident management systems that week.

“In the initial reports, in which there were no mention of human to human transmission, was a cluster of atypical pneumonia or pneumonia of unknown origin,” he said then.

Ryan argued that it was “remarkable” that a cluster of cases was detected in Wuhan, China, because there are “millions and millions of cases of atypical pneumonia around the world” each year and “sometimes it’s very difficult to pick out a signal of a cluster of cases” in the middle of flu season.

The agency has said it intends to conduct an “after-action review” of its handling of the crisis.

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