US fund freeze for WHO comes at a wrong time - GulfToday

US fund freeze for WHO comes at a wrong time

Coronavirus

Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is halting funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) pending a review of its response to the initial outbreak could jeopardise global efforts to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

The United States is WHO’s largest single donor, contributing between $400 million and $500 million annually to the Geneva-based agency in recent years, and the decision will deal a blow to the organisation especially at a time when the number of cases of COVID-19 reported worldwide has surpassed two million.

The most serious pandemic in a century has already claimed over 131,000 people around the world.

Even though the European Union (EU) and the US have been traditional allies for decades, Trump’s move has angered the former, which has stated that Trump has “no reason” to freeze WHO funding at this critical stage, urging measures to promote unity instead of division.

On Twitter, Bill Gates — whose foundation was the second-largest donor to the WHO for its latest two-year budget, contributing over $530 million in 2018 and 2019 — has also insisted that stopping funding for WHO during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds.

“Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs WHO now more than ever,” Gates wrote.

The pandemic is not only posing a gargantuan health challenge to entire humanity, but has also triggered huge economic uncertainty.

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF)’s prediction that the global economy is expected to shrink by 3.0% during 2020 highlights the extent to which the COVID-19 is strangling the world financial system.

IMF’s forecast that the coronavirus-driven collapse of activity will spark the steepest downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s also highlights the crucial need for intensified global interaction to combat the challenge.

The dilemma facing world leaders is how to strike a balance between public health and economic stability.

COVID-19 is estimated to be 10 times deadlier than the 2009 flu pandemic.

UN chief António Guterres is right when he says that now is a time for unity in the global battle to push the COVID-19 pandemic into reverse, not a time to cut the resources of WHO, which is spearheading and coordinating the global body’s efforts.

WHO, with thousands of its staff aiding and assisting operations across the world to limit the transmission of the coronavirus, is on the front lines, supporting member states and their societies, especially the most vulnerable among them, with guidance, training, equipment and concrete life-saving services.

Set up in 1948, the UN agency has a mandate to improve the standard of health worldwide. It is credited with leading a 10-year campaign to eliminate smallpox in the 1970s and has coordinated the fight against epidemics including Ebola.

The US president may have his own reasons to be angry, but the timing of his action is what has added to global concerns.

As the UN chief points out, “Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis.”

The focus of the world community should at present be only on defeating the virus as it poses humungous challenge to entire humanity.

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