Whether Donald Trump has put on hold the US funding to the World Health Organisation to take the focus away from his own failures in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic is not relevant at this stage.
What is certainly relevant is that withholding funding when the world is struggling to tame the killer virus at this critical stage might hamper its activities. The positive role the global health body plays during pandemics, which threaten to overwhelm the healthcare systems of most countries, cannot be exaggerated.
Despite several flaws and even biases displayed by its top bosses, WHO still needs to be defended for it provides protocols on combating the disease, widely shares scientific information and best practices based on research and development in various countries across nations.
In poor and low-income countries, it even undertakes funding, necessary health drills, including immunisation programmes, in order to prevent the spread of various diseases. In short, as per its mandate WHO still manages to do a lot of good work despite the unfortunate injection of partisanship in recent years due to growing tensions between major world powers.
The present WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus, a former Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, is the first DG in the organisation’s history who is not a medical doctor. He should not have been appointed to such a key position which is better served by someone who has a basic grounding in the medical science.
That aside, as became apparent during the course of the coronavirus pandemic in the last over three months, Tedros opened himself to the charge that the world health body did not do enough initially to seek relevant information of the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, China, in mid-December before it spilled out to Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea and so on to the world at large.
China, on its part, stonewalled US requests in the early weeks of the outbreak to send a team of medical experts in order to undertake a study of the new pathogen which had no antidote available as yet.
Indeed, Tedros confidently echoed the claim from the WHO podium made by China that the novel coronavirus did not spread ‘from human to human,’ a white lie which is now proving very costly for the health of humankind. There is validity in the US claim that Tedros delayed declaring the outbreak in Wuhan a public health emergency.
The US Government in a letter to Tedros, informing him of the decision to withhold funds till a full inquiry into the WHO role in the pandemic is conducted, said, ‘you, as a leader of the WHO went so far to praise the Chinese Government’s transparency’. The US letter claimed that China ‘consistently lied to the world by underreporting their actual infection and death statistics.’
But Tedros willingly swallowed those lies and relayed them on the world stage. Whether or not Tedros is influenced by the huge Chinese investments in his home country Ethiopia, there is no denying that he has not played with a straight bat at a time when the entire world looked up to him for providing guidance and relevant information regarding advances in research by various member-countries in developing a preventive oral or injectable medicine.
Given that the US contributes over $ 500 million annually to the WHO, the Trump decision to withhold further funding would certainly hurt its working at a time when it needs additional funding to meet the challenge of the pandemic.
To that extent, the US decision could not have come at a worse time. It is notable that the well-known US philanthropist Bill Gates donates more than $ 300 million to the premier world health agency which has no parallel at this time. China provides one-tenth of the funding the US does. It may be that it riles Trump that despite the generous contribution the world body was in thrall of another global power.
Such capture of various bodies under the aegis of the UN is not a new phenomenon but due to the rising tensions and rivalries between the US and China — in the past between the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union — a question mark has arisen about the ability of the multilateral agencies to steer clear of the diverse pulls and pressure of global politics for them to be able to render good to humankind.
Meanwhile, we hope Trump by carrying out his oft-repeated threat to cut off funding to the WHO does not succeed in diverting attention at home from his stupendous blunders in fighting the pandemic. The US is now the number one nation in the world both in terms of fatalities and those infected.