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WHO reviewing impact of US funding withdrawal amid COVID-19 pandemic

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus briefs virtually on the COVID-19 pandemic in Geneva.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus briefs virtually on the COVID-19 pandemic in Geneva.

WHO reviewing impact of US funding withdrawal amid COVID-19 pandemic


The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday upheld the importance of international solidarity in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic: a “dangerous enemy” to all humanity.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was speaking to journalists one day after the United States announced that it was cutting funding to the UN health agency, pending a review of how the agency responded to the initial outbreak in China that first surfaced at the very end of December.

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“The United States of America has been a longstanding and generous friend to WHO, and we hope it will continue to be so”, he said.

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

Tedros underlined the agency’s commitment to serving the world’s people, but also to accountability for the use of its resources.

“In due course, WHO’s performance in tackling this pandemic will be reviewed by WHO’s Member States and the independent bodies that are in place, to ensure transparency and accountability. This is part of the usual process put in place by our Member States”, he stated.

In the interim, WHO is reviewing the impact the funding withdrawal will have on its operations.

The agency has begun working with partners to fill any resulting financial gaps, to ensure that its activities can continue uninterrupted.

Tedros upheld WHO’s fundamental and founding commitment to public health and to science, and its mandate to work with all nations on equal terms.

“COVID-19 does not discriminate between rich nations and poor, large nations and small. It does not discriminate between nationalities, ethnicities or ideologies”, he said.

“Neither do we. This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat – a dangerous enemy”.

Solidarity on the ground and in the air

Research continues into medicines to treat the new coronavirus disease, Tedros said, in an update on the “Solidarity Trial” launched on 18 March.

So far, more than 90 countries have either joined or expressed interest in the initiative to compare the effectiveness of four treatment options, with more than 900 patients enrolled.

“Three vaccines have already started clinical trials, more than 70 others are in development, and we’re working with partners to accelerate the development, production and distribution of vaccines”, said Tedros.

WHO has also convened groups of clinicians to study the impact of corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs on treatment outcomes.

“Specifically, we are looking at oxygen use and ventilation strategies in patients”, he said, adding that “any intervention that reduces the need for ventilation and improves outcomes for critically ill patients is important – especially in low-resource settings, to save lives”.

The health agency chief also reported on the first UN Solidarity Flights which on Tuesday transported personal protective equipment, ventilators and other lifesaving medical supplies to countries across Africa.

It is part of what he described as “a massive effort” to deliver these items to 95 countries worldwide, in conjunction with fellow UN agencies and other partners such as the Global Fund and the vaccine alliance, GAVI.

Said Tedros: “Whether it is by land, sea or air, WHO staff are working around the clock to deliver for health workers and communities everywhere”.

Staying safe, social and sane

With millions now forced to stay at home to avert further spread of the new coronavirus, WHO officials have reminded people worldwide of the value of remaining in contact with their families and friends.

“There is no doubt that restrictive measures, stay-at-home orders, restriction of movement, have been quite isolating for people, and all the more isolating

There's no lockdown on laughter --Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, WHO

for people who are already isolated or vulnerable”, said Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director, in response to a journalist’s question about mental health during the pandemic.

Dr. Ryan said like the rest of the world, WHO wants to do away with “these more draconian lockdowns”, which will require governments to step up investment in areas such as public health infrastructure and community education.

Dr. Maria van Kerhkove of WHO’s Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Unit, recalled that the agency has replaced the expression “social distancing” with “physical distancing” to emphasize the importance of human contact.

She provided ways people can mind their mental health at this time, such as staying physically active, meditating, and taking time for themselves.

“There’s no lockdown on laughter; there’s no lockdown on talking to your family and finding ways to connect,” she said.