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COVID-19: Trump versus WHO

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By: Shabir Ahmad

In a shocking development, US President Donald Trump has decided to freeze the funding to World Health Organisation (WHO). He has accused the international organisation of mismanaging the COVID-19 crises. The war of words between the WHO and the US President has been going on for some time now and the US President has threatened to cut the funding, alleging that the WHO had failed to stem the crises in the initial stages itself.

The WHO has often failed to act proactively in the face of infectious diseases. We have seen this happening with regard to H1N1, SARS, Ebola and we have seen the same happening with regard to the COVID-19 as well. There are definitely certain deficiencies on the part of WHO but the allegation of Trump that WHO chose to be politically correct over saving lives is uncalled for during this time of crises, when international cooperation is of utmost importance.

The USA accusation is that in the initial stages of pandemic, the WHO chose to be politically correct in order to avoid causing embarrassment to China where the outbreak had begun. So, this makes the US believe that the failure of WHO in accurately assessing the initial stages of the outbreak turned into a pandemic which has killed more than 1,50,000 people globally. This makes the USA believe that the WHO failed to issue timely alerts to other countries and it failed to take timely action which could have contained the outbreak to China itself.

Many other countries, including India, believe that the deficiencies of the WHO did enable the spread of the infections but to accuse the WHO of colluding with China and cutting funding to this crucial international organisation on this pretext in order to cover the failures of US government is uncalled for during this time of crises. That is the reason why Donald Trump’s decision has been widely criticised by global leaders for weakening the capacities of the WHO and for undermining international cooperation at a crucial juncture.

This not first time when Donald Trump has undermined international cooperation. He has a long history of pulling USA out of crucial international organizations including the UNESCO, UN Human Rights Council, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Trans Pacific Partnership, etc.

This hasty decision of Donald Trump has been met with severe backlash and criticism from the leaders within his own country, the European Union, African Union and as well as by China and other countries. Interestingly, India’s response to this decision of Donald Trump has been more or less neutral – actually bordering on ambiguity. This is quite shocking because India, having been the champion of international cooperation, has always been critical of any attempt to weaken multilateral institutions. But considering the battle between the US and the WHO is more politically in nature, India has preferred to stay out of it and it has said that the country is preoccupied by domestic efforts in containing the pandemic.

It is true that the WHO has a number of deficiencies and they need to be addressed through a series of reforms, but to undermine a crucial international organization when the world is dealing with unprecedented crises, is simply an irresponsible behaviour on the part of the USA. Reason being that we do not have an alternative to WHO, and as observed by Bill Gates, there is no world organisation that can replace the WHO as of now.

If we look at its funding pattern, it receives funds through a mix of assets and voluntary contributions that are made by the member states. The member states of the WHO contribute to its functioning. So, accordingly countries such as India have contributed two million dollars to the WHO, while as China has contributed around 28.7 million dollars. But the biggest contributors to the WHO are the European economies and the United States. Hence, the decision of Donald Trump to cut American funding to the WHO is going to severely affect the capacities of the WHO at a time when the world is dealing with unprecedented crises.

(The Author studies for Civil Service Examinations and can be reached at [email protected]).


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