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Pending Review, President Trump Moves To Halt Funding To WHO


After getting a barrage of criticism about his own handling of the pandemic, President Trump assigns blame somewhere else. He announced last night that he is stopping U.S. funding to the World Health Organization.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable.

MARTIN: The president wants to pull funding for the WHO until there's a review of how the international organization managed the outbreak from the time that it began in China. But does the president even have the authority to pull that funding? NPR's global health and development correspondent Jason Beaubien joins us now. Hi, Jason.


MARTIN: So the president here pretty much blaming the WHO for everything. Let's take it one at a time.


MARTIN: He says that the WHO helped China cover up the seriousness of the outbreak there. Is that true?

BEAUBIEN: You know, there has been a lot of criticism of China not being as forthcoming as a lot of people would like, not providing as much information about exactly how many deaths occurred or how many possibly asymptomatic cases are out there. And the WHO has not jumped on that criticism, and that seems to be part of what President Trump is saying, is that he feels like they should be more critical of China. You know, the WHO is a U.N. agency. They don't tend to criticize their member nations.

MARTIN: The president says the World Health Organization failed to investigate sources in Wuhan, failed to share what they knew with the rest of the world. Let's listen to a clip here.


TRUMP: 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 at its source with very little death.

MARTIN: I mean, does the WHO even have the authority to go into a country if it's not invited in?

BEAUBIEN: No, they don't. The WHO, as I said, you know, it's an arm of the U.N. It operates at the will and invitation of national governments. It is not the public health policeman of the world. It actually doesn't have a lot of power to force anyone to do anything at all. Their role is to offer guidance, technical expertise, you know, advice. And then individual countries can take whatever measures they feel are appropriate for them to protect themselves.

You know, the WHO was offering to send experts into China early in January. Beijing rejected those initial offers, essentially saying we got this. The WHO did eventually send a team of experts in around mid-February. And then there's this second assertion that, you know, this would have been contained at its source. I think most epidemiologists simply don't agree with that. This is a respiratory virus. We've seen how easily it spreads. And I think most people think that this was going to spread outside of China.

MARTIN: So now to the funding question - does President Trump have the authority to cut funding to the WHO?

BEAUBIEN: So yes, he does. The U.S. is the largest donor, by far, to the WHO. The U.S. contributes roughly $500 million a year. That sounds like a lot, but I should point out that the budget for the U.S. CDC is $6.5 billion. So you know, the funding for the WHO is just a fraction of that.

These U.S. contributions to the WHO, they're part of a package of money that Congress allocates for a number of international organizations, then the administration has quite a bit of leeway in how that money is doled out. So the administration does have, you know, leeway and certainly can hold up this money if it wants to. But the WHO obviously is grappling with this terrible pandemic at the moment. And you know, a lot of people are criticizing this move at this point in time.

MARTIN: Has the WHO responded? Just briefly.

BEAUBIEN: One adviser to the agency basically said this is the height of self-defeating lunacy. We're expecting more statements from the head of the WHO at a press conference later today.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Jason Beaubien. Thank you.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.