Trump said at a White House briefing that the United States would suspend funding to the organization while officials conduct a review “to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
The president criticized the WHO for opposing large-scale travel restrictions and accused it of failing to quickly vet and share accurate information on COVID-19.
“The WHO’s attack on travel restrictions put political correctness above life-saving measures,” Trump said in the Rose Garden. “The reality is that the WHO failed to adequately obtain, vet and share information in a timely and transparent fashion.”
Tuesday’s announcement immediately triggered backlash from the health community. The American Medical Association (AMA) swiftly issued a statement calling the move a “dangerous step in the wrong direction” and urging Trump to reconsider.
“Fighting a global pandemic requires international cooperation and reliance on science and data. Cutting funding to the WHO – rather than focusing on solutions – is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world,” the AMA said.
Trump said the review would last between 60 and 90 days and insisted his administration would spend the money to otherwise help combat the virus, though he didn’t go into specifics.
“We will be able to take that money and channel it to the areas most needed,” Trump said. “We have not been treated properly.”
Trump accused the WHO of treating the U.S. unfairly, repeatedly pointing to the disparity in funding the organization receives from the U.S. versus China. The U.S. is the largest contributor to the global organization.
Trump also criticized the WHO for praising China’s supposed transparency with respect to the coronavirus, despite the president himself doing the same in late January. Trump denied talking about Beijing’s transparency when pressed about his past remarks during an exchange with reporters later Tuesday.
Trump said last week that he was considering withholding funding to the WHO over its handling of the coronavirus, accusing it of favoritism toward Beijing and rebuking it for opposing his travel restriction on China. He has also characterized the WHO’s response to the outbreak as sluggish.
Trump’s increased focus on the WHO comes as he undergoes increasing scrutiny for his own response to the virus. The president downplayed the threat of the coronavirus early on in the outbreak, and health experts say that early missteps with testing hampered the overall U.S. response.
Conservatives in particular have stepped up criticism of the WHO in recent weeks, charging that the organization has been overly trusting of China’s reporting and slow to prepare the international community for the novel coronavirus.
They have also zeroed in on WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s praise of China’s handling of the virus despite reports about efforts by Beijing to conceal the extent of the outbreak. Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) recently called on Tedros to resign over the organization’s handling of the virus.
Trump said Tuesday that his administration would continue to engage with the WHO on possible reform during the administration’s review of the organization’s actions.