Donald Trump's decision to halt WHO funding condemned by scientists

  • Video report by ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore

Donald Trump’s decision to halt US funding for the World Health Organisation over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been condemned by UK-based experts.

The US president accused the international body of "severely mismanaging and covering up” the spread of the virus.

But Downing Street said the organisation was playing an important role in tackling the spread of the virus, and scientists hit out at the "short-sighted" move.

Mr Trump said his administration would suspend funding of up to £400 million (500 million US dollars) a year for the organisation.

He said US taxpayers are the largest contributors to the WHO, dwarfing the amount paid by China.

Mr Trump claimed the WHO had made a "disastrous" decision to oppose travel restrictions from China, but the president said his actions in ignoring that advice had saved "untold numbers of lives".

He has previously accused the United Nations’ health agency of being "China-centric".

Downing Street defended the WHO’s role and said the UK was not planning to follow Mr Trump’s lead.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: "Our position is that the UK has no plans to stop funding the WHO, which has an important role to play in leading the global health response.

"Coronavirus is a global challenge and it’s essential that countries work together to tackle this shared threat."

WHO said it regrets Trump’s decision to halt US funding, adding that now is a time for everyone to be united against the threat of Covid-19.

He said his administration would suspend funding of up to £400 million (500 million US dollars) a year for the organisation.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said: “The United States of America has been a longstanding and generous friend to WHO, and we hope it will continue to be so.

“We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in funding to the World Health Organisation.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has said the WHO is “absolutely critical” to coordinating global efforts to combat Covid-19, adding the right time to look at its work is “once we have finally turned the page on this pandemic”.

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The UK’s funding for the organisation was based on an assessment of what it needed, something that was kept under review but was not affected by other countries’ decisions, the spokesman said.

The Government "wants to see the WHO continue to learn lessons on how to improve its response to global health emergencies" and the spokesman called for "transparent and accurate" information about the virus.

“We want to work with all parts of the international community - including China - to ensure a joined-up response to the pandemic."

But scientists railed against Mr Trump’s actions and stressed the need for international co-operation in tackling Covid-19.

Medical staff working to treat coronavirus in New York. Credit: PA

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor at the University of Leeds School of Medicine, said: “This most recent intervention in public health policy by President Trump is perhaps one of the least productive, most short-sighted, self-motivated and hypocritical acts I have ever witnessed.

“As far as I can ascertain, it has no foundation in reality.

“I suspect this move has the support of precisely 0% of the US scientific and healthcare communities.”

Professor David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist who led the global shutdown of Sars in the early 2000s, said: “Being an American, I’m very unhappy that the United States would not be providing funding to a multilateral organisation as important as WHO.

“That’s my own personal view, I’m very disappointed if that does occur.”

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “This pandemic has exposed our international interdependence like never before.

“The right response is more, not less, co-operation.

“International institutions will only ever succeed with progressive global leadership, not cynically trying to shift the blame.”

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