The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday that it “is getting on with the job” in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, despite President Donald Trump’s announcement a day earlier that the US would withhold funding to the international organization.
“We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in funding to the World Health Organization,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference Wednesday.
Trump announced Tuesday he is halting funding to the WHO while a review is conducted. CNN reported Wednesday that the administration is looking for new ways to allocate that money, which would leave the WHO without tens of millions of dollars from its largest donor.
Trump’s decision comes amid the worst global pandemic in decades and as he tries deflecting criticism of his administration’s handling of the virus in the United States.
Tedros said Wednesday that the WHO is assessing exactly how its programs will be affected by the loss of funding from the US.
“We will do the assessment and then announce it officially,” Tedros said during the briefing, adding that the international agency “will work with our partners to fill any financial gaps we face and to ensure our work continues uninterrupted.”
He said that the WHO will continue working with other countries and argued that unity is key to fighting the coronavirus.
“WHO is grateful to the many nations, organizations and individuals who have expressed their support and commitment to WHO in recent days, including their financial commitment,” Tedros said. “We welcome this demonstration of global solidarity because solidarity is the rule of the game to defeat Covid-19. WHO is getting on with the job.”
Recently, skepticism has been aimed toward the WHO’s relationship with China; critics have questioned whether the WHO is independent enough, given China’s rising wealth and power. They point to the WHO’s effusive praise of China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In his announcement Tuesday, Trump criticized the WHO for its response to the coronavirus and alluded to alleged increase in Chinese influence at the organization, arguing that the virus could have been better contained had the WHO “done its job to get medical experts into China” and assess the situation.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was more blunt, claiming that the WHO “declined to call this a pandemic for an awfully long time because frankly the Chinese Communist Party didn’t want that to happen.”
WHO officials in Wednesday’s news conference defended their early actions when it came to fighting the coronavirus.
“When WHO issued its first guidance to countries, it was extremely clear that respiratory precautions should be taken in dealing with patients with this disease, that labs needed to be careful in terms of their precautions and taking samples, because there was a risk that the disease could spread from person to person in those environments,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Emergencies Programme said.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an WHO infectious diseases epidemiologist said she recently went back and listened to the WHO press conference on January 14, and at the time, there were 41 confirmed cases worldwide.
“All of our guidance that was before we did that press conference was about limiting exposure to people and to prevent transmission, particularly in health care settings,” adding “our guidance that was put out was about respiratory droplets and contact protection,” Van Kerkove said. Noting, that guidance was put out on the 10th and 11th of January.
Ryan said health systems around the world, including the United States, began to activate incident management systems during the first week of January.
“In the initial reports, in which there were no mention of human to human transmission, was a cluster of atypical pneumonia or pneumonia or unknown origin.”
Ryan said “there are literally millions and millions of cases of atypical pneumonia around the world, every year,” adding, in the middle of flu season, “sometimes it’s very difficult to pick out a signal of a cluster of cases. In fact, it’s quite remarkable that such a cluster was picked out, 41 confirmed cases ultimately in a cluster in Wuhan.”
Ryan said the organization “will be very happy when the after action reviews come in fact, I am very anxious for those after action reviews to come because we do them for every outbreak response and I’ll be delighted with our teams and look forward to that engagement to look and see where we can learn to do better, where we can improve our response.”
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