President Donald Trump has announced the US will halt funding to the WHO because it has “failed in its basic duty” in its response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The president accused the UN health agency of mismanaging and covering up the spread of the virus after it emerged in China, and said it must be held accountable.
In response, the UN chief said it was “not the time” to cut funds to the WHO.
President Trump has been under fire for his own handling of the pandemic.
He has sought to deflect persistent criticism that he acted too slowly to stop the virus’s spread by pointing to his decision in late January to place restrictions on travel from China.
Donald Trump has accused the WHO of having “criticized” that decision and of being biased towards China more generally.
On April 14, President Trump told a news conference at the White House: “I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
The WHO is yet to directly respond but UN Secretary General António Guterres said the international community should be uniting “in solidarity to stop this virus”.
He said: “It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19.”
The WHO was founded in 1948 and has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. It is the UN agency responsible for global public health, with 194 member states, and aims to “promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable”.
Its funding is made up of membership fees – which are known as “assessed contributions” and calculated based on wealth and population – and voluntary contributions.
The US is the WHO’s biggest single funder, providing $400 million in 2018-19 – just under 15% of its total budget.
According to the WHO website, China’s contribution in 2018-19 was almost $76 million in assessed contributions and about $10m in voluntary funding.
The second-largest WHO funder is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provides 9.76% of the agency’s funds.
Bill Gates: “Halting funding for the World Health Organization 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.”
The WHO launched an appeal in March for $675 million to help fight the coronavirus pandemic and is reported to be planning a fresh appeal for at least $1 billion.