President Donald Trump announced Friday that the United States will cut ties with the World Health Organization.
“China has total control over the World Health Organization despite only paying $40 million per year compared to what the United States has been paying, which is approximately $450 million a year,” Trump said during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden.
“The world needs answers from China on the virus. We must have transparency. Why is it that China shut off infected people from Wuhan to all other parts of China?” he added. “It didn’t go to Beijing, it went nowhere else, but they allowed them to freely travel throughout the world, including Europe and the United States.”
Trump has repeatedly criticized the WHO’s response to the coronavirus, which has hit the U.S. worse than any other country, amid scrutiny of his own administration’s response to the pandemic. He has claimed the WHO is “China-centric” and blames the agency for advising against China travel bans early in the outbreak.
“Fortunately, I was not convinced and suspended travel from China saving untold numbers of lives,” Trump said April 14.
The agency has defended its initial response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying it gave world leaders enough time to intervene early in the outbreak.
The agency declared Covid-19 a global health emergency on Jan. 30 when there were only 82 cases outside of China and zero deaths, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference on May 1. “Meaning, the world had enough time to intervene.”
The WHO has also defended China, saying as far back as February that the country’s response to the virus was an improvement from past outbreaks such as SARS.
Earlier this month, Trump threatened to permanently cut off U.S. funding of the WHO. In a letter, he said that if the WHO “does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization.”
On Friday, Trump said the WHO “failed to make the requested greatly needed reform” and the U.S. “will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs.”
The WHO’s funding runs in two-year budget cycles. For the 2018 and 2019 funding cycle, the U.S. paid a $237 million required assessment as well as $656 million in voluntary contributions, averaging $446 million a year and representing about 14.67% of its total budget, according to WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.
It’s unclear exactly what mechanism Trump intends to use to terminate WHO funding, much of which is appropriated by Congress. The president typically does not have the authority to unilaterally redirect congressional funding.
Lawrence Gostin, a professor and faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said in a tweet Friday that Trump’s move is “unlawful” because pulling funding requires Congress, which has already authorized funding.
It’s also “dangerous” because “we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
On May 20, WHO officials said they worried the agency’s emergency programs would suffer if the president permanently pulled U.S. funding from the international agency.
Most funding from the United States goes directly out to the program that helps countries in “all sorts of fragile and difficult settings,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said at the time.
“We’ll obviously have to work with other partners to ensure those funds can still flow,” Ryan said. “This is going to be a major implication for delivering essential health services to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and we trust developed donors will, if necessary, step in to fill that gap.”
The WHO started sounding the alarm on the outbreak in China in mid-January. On March 11, WHO officials declared the outbreak a pandemic, when there were just 121,000 global cases. The virus has now infected more than 5.8 million people worldwide, including more than 1.73 million in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.