President Trump on Monday threatened to pull the U.S. out of the World Health Organization and end funding permanently if the group does not immediately address concerns about its deference to China.
“It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world,” the president wrote in a letter to WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The WHO must “actually demonstrate independence from China” and “commit to major substantive improvements” over the next 30 days if the U.S. is to remain a member, the president said.
The Trump administration suspended funding to the WHO last month until a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said at the time.
Trump has complained that the WHO is overly-deferential to China despite the U.S. providing substantially more funding to the organization. The U.S. provides about $400 million to the WHO annually, and is by far the largest contributor to the agency, covering 15 percent of its budget. By contrast, China annually contributes 0.2 percent of the budget. After the U.S. suspended funding, Beijing said it will provide an additional $30 million to the WHO this year to fill the gap left by Trump’s funding cut.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar criticized the organization’s handling of the pandemic on Monday in remarks to the to the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO.
“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons that this outbreak spun out of control,” Azar said. “There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives.”
In January, the WHO recommended that countries keep borders and trade open even as it dubbed the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency.
Several Republican senators have also eviscerated the WHO for its handling of the virus outbreak. Senator Martha McSally called on the director-general to step down and Senator Rick Scott called for a congressional investigation into the organization and accused it of “helping Communist China cover up” the seriousness of the virus.
The president’s warning to the WHO came after the announcement that he is taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, as a precaution against the coronavirus, despite concerns about the potentially serious side effects of the drug.