The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) defended its response to the coronavirus pandemic after President Trump threatened to pull U.S. funding for the United Nations agency.
“Please don’t politicize this virus,” WHO Director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a Geneva briefing on Wednesday. “If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) April 8, 2020
Trump sharply criticized the WHO during a coronavirus task force briefing Tuesday night. Trump claimed the organization hadn’t been aggressive enough in confronting the virus and threatened to withhold U.S. funding, saying, “They called it wrong. They called it wrong. They really, they missed the call. They could have called it months earlier.” Trump also accused the WHO of being “China-centric.”
Trump isn’t alone in his critical views of the WHO’s response to the virus. The Wall Street Journal editorial board published a scathing op-ed accusing the WHO of bias towards China in its early messaging on the virus, and calling Tedros a “politician, not a doctor.” The Chinese government has been accused of concealing the extent of the outbreak and silencing whistleblowers. Some critics have also said that the WHO’s delay in categorizing the virus as a pandemic deprived countries of critical time to prepare for the influx of infected patients.
On Wednesday, Dr. Tedros emphasized the actions WHO has taken since it was first made aware of the virus in December, including notifying all member states about the outbreak and posting news about it on its website. The organization declared “a public health emergency of international concern, our highest level of alarm,” at the end of January when the first cases of community spread were reported outside of China.
“We said we have been doing everything we can, but we will continue to do everything — day and night — like we have been doing to save lives,” Tedros said. “We don’t want to waste time.”
The U.S. is currently the largest contributor to WHO, with Congress already authorizing $122 million for the organization for this fiscal year. While Trump had already proposed cutting the allocation to $58 million, Congress would be “unlikely to authorize” such a move during a pandemic, according to CNBC.