The WHO tells leaders to stop politicizing the coronavirus pandemic 'if you don't want more body bags' after Trump threatened to freeze funds to the agency

AFP via Getty ImagesWorld Health Organisation Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a virtual news briefing on COVID-19 from WHO headquarters in Geneva on April 6, 2020.
  • After US President Donald Trump threatened to cut US funding to the World Health Organisation on Tuesday, the agency responded with a plea for leaders around the world to “quarantine COVID politics” during this outbreak.
  • The US provides the largest share of the WHO’s budget.
  • Trump had accused the agency of a pro-China stance, but in unusually impassioned remarks, the agency’s director-general made a plea for more unity during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • “The United States and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Anything that starts in one place affects the whole world. We can not live in our nation-state boundaries.”
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After US President Donald Trump threatened to cut US funding to the World Health Organisation on Tuesday, accusing the agency of being too “China-centric,” the agency’s director-general responded with an impassioned plea for leaders around the world to “quarantine COVID politics” during this outbreak.

“No need to use COVID to score political points, no need,” WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Wednesday. “You have many other ways to prove yourselves. This is not the one to use for politics. It’s like playing with fire.”

The coronavirus has killed more than 85,000 people worldwide so far, including more than 12,000 in the US, where experts expect this week may be one of the deadliest, and most devastating nationwide.

“The focus of all political parties should be to save their people,” Tedros said. “If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”

President Trump, who had said the day before that “we’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO,” before backtracking and suggesting “maybe not” when asked for clarification by a reporter, complained that “everything seems to be very biased toward China. That’s not right.”

The WHO has largely applauded China’s response during the coronavirus outbreak, and a WHO envoy sent to China in February reported that the rest of the world is “not ready” to fight COVID-19 the way China did.

But there are worries among scientists, Chinese residents, and members of the international intelligence community, about the extent to which China may have hidden the scale of its coronavirus outbreak. Human rights experts also stress there are life-and-death consequences to the hard-line Chinese tracking systems and disease-fighting tactics.

The US has been the most generous supporter of the WHO, providing 14% of the agency’s budget

Bush pepfar hiv aidsMark Wilson/Getty ImagesPresident George W. Bush holds up 4-year-old Baron Tantoh while his mother, Manyonga Tantoh, looks on during a news conference on funding to fight HIV/AIDS around the world, at the White House, May 30, 2007.

On Wednesday, Tedros made no mention of President Trump by name, but instead said “we shouldn’t waste time pointing fingers,” making an appeal for more global unity during the outbreak.

“We will have many body bags in front of us if we don’t behave,” he said. “When there are cracks at the national level and global level, that’s when the virus succeeds.”

Tedros mentioned the historical example of how the US and former USSR came together, even as they were sparring on a political level during the Cold War era, to fight smallpox, a disease which has now been eradicated from the Earth.

“The United States and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy,” he said. “Anything that starts in one place affects the whole world. We can not live in our nation-state boundaries.”

The US is by far the largest funder of the WHO, providing 14% of the agency’s budget for its work coordinating and supporting global public health responses (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation comes in second, providing 9.76% of the WHO’s cash.)

“By the way, I would like to use this opportunity to thank the US for its generous support,” Tedros said, alluding to that fact on Wednesday, and thanking former US President George W. Bush by name for starting PEPFAR in 2003, providing tens of billions of dollars to prevent, treat, and research the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“In the US, supporting global health has been a bipartisan position,” Tedros said. “What I believe is it will continue that way.”

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