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Trump threatens to withdraw from World Health Organization

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President Donald Trump threatened to permanently cut U.S. funding to the World Health Organization and “reconsider” membership of the global health body if the WHO does not adopt “major substantive improvements” within 30 days.

Trump’s demands, made in a letter sent Tuesday to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, are an escalation of the president’s attacks on the WHO. He accused the organization of “repeated missteps” during the coronavirus pandemic and demanded “it can actually demonstrate independence” from China.

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“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,” Trump wrote in his ultimatum, which comes about a month after he froze WHO funding pending a formal investigation into the international health body and its coronavirus response.

The letter lists a series of allegations Trump said reflects how the United Nations agency missed early warning signs over the virus’ spread and then blithely accepted China’s lack of transparency over the outbreak, such as whether the coronavirus could be transmitted between humans. The WHO initially circulated preliminary Chinese claims that there was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus.  

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In his letter, Trump did not outline what the WHO needs to do to satisfy his demands. On Monday, Trump called the UN’s health body a “puppet of China.”

The WHO did not immediately respond for a request for comment on the action.

The organization has previously disputed claims from the Trump administration that it acted too slowly in sounding the alarm over coronavirus. Public health experts have long warned the agency is overly bureaucratic and in need of reform. Little evidence has emerged to substantiate accusations from Trump administration officials that the WHO deliberately acted in concert with China to obfuscate what it knew about the outbreak. 

On Monday, Ghebreyesus said he would launch an independent evaluation of the WHO’s coronavirus response “at the earliest appropriate moment.” And China’s leader Xi Jinping said he would support an independent investigation into the pandemic, though it remains unclear whether any such review would probe the origins of the virus. Trump has floated theories, without describing or providing evidence, that it escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus first emerged late last year.    

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The U.S. is the WHO’s biggest donor. It paid $400 million to the WHO for 2018-2019, according to the organization’s website. That money represents about 15% of the WHO’s budget. When Trump said last month that he would temporarily freeze WHO spending he said he would “channel” the money into other areas to combat the coronavirus outbreak. He has not provided specifics on that pledge.  

Among the other accusations made in Trump’s letter: 

  • The WHO, bowing to pressure from China, delayed an emergency declaration connected to the outbreak.
  • The global health body praised China’s government for its “transparency” with respect to the coronavirus, setting a “new standard for outbreak control.”
  • The WHO was “inexplicably against my closing of the United States border” and a travel ban from China
  • The agency has failed to publicly address accusations of “China’s racially discriminatory actions” in China against African nationals.