U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he has instructed his administration to at least temporarily halt funding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, at a White House news conference, said the WHO had "failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable." He said the group had promoted China's "disinformation" about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak of the virus than otherwise would have occurred.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.
“The W.H.O. really blew it,” Trump added in a Twitter post. “For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”
The hold on funding was expected. Trump has been increasingly critical of the organization as the global health crisis has continued, and he has reacted angrily to criticism of his administration's response.
The decision drew immediate condemnation. American Medical Association President Dr. Patrice Harris called it "a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier" and urged Trump to reconsider.
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Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, who heads the U.S. House of Representatives Committee that sets government spending, said Trump was making a mistake.
"The coronavirus cannot just be defeated here in the United States, it has to be defeated in every conceivable location throughout the world," she said in a statement.
The Republican president recently accused the WHO of being too lenient with China in the earliest days of the crisis, despite having himself praised China in January for its response and transparency.
Trump has made frequent use of scapegoats during his short political career. He often lashes out at the media, Democrats, or other when he feels attacked or under pressure.
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Trump said the WHO failed to investigate credible reports from sources in China's Wuhan province that conflicted with Beijing's accounts about the coronavirus' spread and "parroted and publicly endorsed" the idea that human to human transmission was not happening.
"Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China's lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained ... with very little death," Trump said.
Trump said the U.S. review of the WHO was likely to take 60-90 days.