US President Donald Trump has sent a letter to the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), threatening to permanently withdraw US funding for Covid-19.
The letter sets a 30-day deadline for the organization to commit to “substantial improvements” or risk losing millions and American members.
Addressed to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, he criticizes the stages of the organization’s response since December.
Earlier on Monday, Trump called the UN health agency “China’s puppet.”
The president, who is due to be re-elected this year and has been criticized for his handling of the pandemic, accused China of trying to cover up the epidemic and accused the WHO of not holding Beijing responsible .
China has repeatedly denied the allegations. The Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Trump is trying to mislead the public and smear China.
To date, the United States has more than 1.5 million of the 4.8 million confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide, with more than 90,000 deaths.
Trump’s ultimatum also comes at a time of pressure for WHO.
On Monday, Dr. Tedros supported a review of the agency’s management of the pandemic. He said an independent assessment would take place “as soon as possible”.
What does the letter say?
Trump posted the letter on Twitter Monday evening after a day of heavy US criticism of the health agency.
Secretary of Health Alex Azar spoke at the WHO World Health Assembly and accused the organization of leaving Covid-19 running “out of control” at the cost of “many lives ”.
In his letter to Dr. Tedros, the American president accuses WHO of having “an alarming lack of independence” vis-à-vis China.
Among his claims, Trump accuses the agency of “systematically ignoring” what he describes as “credible information” about the spread of the virus in Wuhan in early December or even earlier.
The President has repeatedly accused China of failing to respond to the coronavirus epidemic.
Beijing denies this allegation. Earlier this month, the Chinese foreign ministry said the country “had always been in good communication and cooperation” with WHO and had “never attempted to manipulate the organization.”
Also in the letter, Mr. Trump:
- Cites reports that WHO delayed a declaration of emergency under pressure from President Xi Jinping
- Criticizes praise from China’s “transparency” agency amid reports of censorship and lack of international cooperation
- Accuses WHO of failing to comment on racial discrimination linked to virus occurring in China
- Dr Tedros could have saved “many lives” if he had acted more like Dr Harlem Brundtland, the head of the WHO during the Sars epidemic in 2003
Mr. Trump, in his conclusion, alleges that the “repeated missteps” of Dr. Tedros and the WHO have been “extremely costly to the world”.
“The only way forward for the World Health Organization is to be able to prove its independence from China,” said the letter.
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Trump then calls on the organization to commit to “substantial substantive improvements” within 30 days, without specifying what that means.
Without these changes, the president said, the United States will make its temporary freeze on US funding permanent and “completely reconsider our membership in the organization.”
Trump announced the U.S. payments stop last month. The country is the largest contributor to WHO, accounting for just under 15% of its funding in the past year.
The World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of member states to review the work of WHO, takes place over two days and ends on Tuesday.
So far, the virtual forum has been dominated by clashes over the role of the organization, as well as pressure for an investigation into the management of the pandemic.
A resolution that would also allow poor countries to access any coronavirus vaccines or treatments that could be developed by private manufacturers is also in question.
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President Xi said on Monday that any vaccine developed in China “would become a global public good … ensuring the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in developing countries.”
The Financial Times reports that the United States plans to distance itself from some of the terms of the resolution publicly. He should pass despite all American objections.