Trump Lashes Out at WHO to Distract from His Own Pandemic Failings
On May 18, President Trump sent a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) blasting their efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The factually inaccurate letter came after the first day of the WHO summit and issued an ultimatum to the organization – capitulate to Trump’s demands, or the United States would permanently pull its funding.
The United States already temporarily suspended funding to the WHO in mid-April, right at the peak of the pandemic. The suspension, Trump claimed, was to “to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” The President claimed that the WHO was pushing misinformation spread by the Chinese government.
Now, Trump is lashing out at the WHO and China again, pushing the blame externally to distract from his own failings as Commander in Chief during an international crisis. Trump has, in fact, done exactly what he accusing the WHO of doing – downplaying the crisis early on, pushing misinformation, and leading to countless unnecessary cases and deaths.
Trump’s Coronavirus misinformation
Despite Trumps claims otherwise, the WHO did issue warnings early and often about the severity of the coronavirus. On January 29, Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said, “The whole world needs to be on alert now. The whole world needs to take action and be ready for any cases that come from the epicenter or other epicenter that becomes established.”
The next day, Trump praised China’s efforts at shutting down the virus at a campaign rally in Iowa. On February 2, Trump executive order banning travel from China went into effect. The WHO resisted these travel bans, stating, “Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit.”
Trump is now citing that early resistance to travel bans as evidence of the W.H.O’s wrongdoing. However, we know now that the virus was already circulating in the United States as early as January. Still, Trump continued to focus on border closings and ignoring the crisis of testing and medical supplies which crippled the US’s pandemic response.
On February 26, Trump claimed that the United States would soon have “zero” cases. Meanwhile, the same week, the WHO raised the global risk of the virus from “high” to “very high.”
Trump has consistently looked to scapegoat others for his own failings as a leader. This time, there are deadly consequences. To date, the virus has killed 90,000 people in the United States.
The danger of defunding WHO during a pandemic
It’s unclear if Trump actually has the authority to end funding to the World Health Organization since such funding is authorized by Congress. Still, Trump’s threats put more people at risk as the pandemic rages on. Experts have argued that this political posturing will only harm the worldwide virus response.
“Just when the world was trying to come together over an unprecedented health crisis, it’s all splintered apart,” Lawrence O. Gostin, the director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, told the New York Times. “This kind of disruption and setting global health on fire by the Trump administration is going to cost lives.”
The United States is the largest donor to the WHO. Between 2018 – 20019, the US paid $237 million in required membership dues to the WHO, and donated an additional $656 million. US donations make up 14.67% of all voluntary contributions given globally. Poorer countries would be especially hurt by the sudden removal of funds, experts say.
Trump’s letter called on the WHO to make “major substantive improvements” within 30 days, however it did not clarify what these improvements should be. In response, the WHO rejected Trump’s demands but did agree to study the effectiveness of its coronavirus response.
Global leaders call for unity
Leaders across the globe have called for unity during the pandemic.
“Please don’t politicize this virus,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva. “The focus of all political parties should be to save their people.”
“Apportioning blame doesn’t help. The virus knows no borders,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Twitter on Wednesday.
Virginie Battu-Henriksson, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, said it was “the time for solidarity, not the time for finger pointing.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “At a time like this when we need to be sharing information and we need to have advice we can rely on, the WHO has provided that. We will continue to support it and continue to make our contributions”.