World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is “shaken” by the U.S. decision to freeze funding for the agency for not doing enough to stem the spread of the coronavirus when it first surfaced in China, Reuters reported Friday.
Reuters cited named and unnamed W.H.O. insiders and other officials as the source for its report. W.H.O. is a component of the United Nations.
“It has been a big blow to W.H.O. and to Tedros,” an unnamed W.H.O. official told Reuters, referring to the U.S. funding halt.
“We knew how it was going to look, and he can sometimes be a bit naive about that,” another anonymous source told Reuters, referring to Tedro’s praise of China’s response to the deadly virus. “But he’s also stubborn.”
An anonymous source familiar with the discussions told Reuters several W.H.O. advisers urged Tedros, the first person to run the agency without being a medical doctor, to tone down his praises for Beijing’s response to the pandemic as evidence mounted that Chinese officials had silenced whistleblowers and suppressed information about the outbreak.
“When he refers to China with praise, there is always a grinding of teeth,” an unnamed European envoy who attends Tedros’s weekly briefings for diplomats of member states told Reuters.
China’s Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province, is the birthplace of the Chinese coronavirus and the illness associated with it, COVID-19. Several Trump administration officials have accused China of mismanaging its response and hiding the extent of the viral outbreak during its early stages, with the help of W.H.O.
Tedros lauded Beijing’s response to the coronavirus outbreak after visiting China in January of this year.
The [W.H.O.] advisers encouraged Tedros to use less effusive language [in praising China] out of concern about how he would be perceived externally, the person familiar with the discussions said, but the director general was adamant, in part because he wanted to ensure China’s cooperation in fighting the outbreak.
The United States is already mulling redirecting millions in W.H.O. funds to other international health organizations. Nevertheless, communication continues between the United States and the international body, according to Tedros.
“We are actually in constant contact, and we work together,” Tedros told reporters on May 1 about U.S.-W.H.O. relations.
Still, W.H.O. Director Tedros is “shaken” by the U.S. decision, Reuters claimed.
Trump’s move has “obviously frustrated” Tedros, who believes President Trump is using the W.H.O. as a “political football.”
“We’re in the middle of the fight of our lives – all of us around the world,” Michael Ryan, the top W.H.O. official, told Reuters, referring to the challenges facing the body.
The W.H.O. is working on helping health systems deal with the pandemic, developing vaccines and treatments, and reopening economies, Ryan argued.
“That’s a big enough task to worry about for any organization,” he declared. “I’ve got to now deal with the potential that we’ll have a significant disruption in funding in front-line essential health services in many fragile countries in the coming months.”
“It’s bending the system,” the doctor and epidemiologist added, “but it’s not breaking it.”
The U.S. is the W.H.O.’s top source of funding, but American officials, including President Trump, have complained that China appears to maintain more clout over the agency.
Citing the organization’s figures, Reuters revealed that American taxpayers were due to contribute $533 million for the current two-year period, ending in December 2021.
That is about three times the amount China is expected to provide during the same period — $187.5 million.
Citing an unnamed U.S. official, Reuters revealed:
Washington already has paid almost half of the $122 million of the membership dues it owed for 2020. The official added that Trump’s freeze means Washington will likely redirect the remaining $65 million in dues payments and more than $300 million in planned giving to other international organizations.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also called for an independent review of the W.H.O’s response to COVID-19. The European Union has also reportedly proposed a resolution calling for an evaluation of the W.H.O’s response to the pandemic.
The W.H.O.’s annual assembly of ministers will reportedly consider the measure next week.
China has refuted criticism for its response to COVID-19, which had infected 4.5 million and killed 304,000 across the world as of Friday afternoon, the Johns Hopkins University tracker showed.