President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to slash federal funding for the World Health Organization, accusing the United Nations public health agency of being “very China centric” and criticizing its early guidance aimed at countering the international spread of the coronavirus.
“The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on,” he added. “Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”
Throughout the administration’s response to the pandemic, the president has repeatedly promoted his decision in late January to close the border to foreign nationals who had recently been in China and institute a mandatory two-week quarantine for U.S. citizens returning from the country’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Those directives broke with a series of WHO recommendations cautioning that “travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation” of coronavirus cases, but may instead “have a significant economic and social impact.”
“In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions,” the WHO reported, adding that such measures could “interrupt needed aid and technical support” and “disrupt businesses.”
The WHO did acknowledge, however, that travel restrictions “may have a public health rationale at the beginning of the containment phase of an outbreak, as they may allow affected countries to implement sustained response measures, and non-affected countries to gain time to initiate and implement effective preparedness measures.”
But the restrictions “need to be short in duration, proportionate to the public health risks, and be reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves,” the WHO advised.
The president’s initial order and the administration’s subsequent actions, of course, did not heed any of those conditions.
Trump’s travel ban was announced after the disease had already begun rampaging across China, not in the early stages of the outbreak, and it did not accompany broader federal efforts to prepare the U.S. for the coming pandemic.
The ban, which has now extended beyond two months, also was not “short in duration” and included exemptions that reportedly allowed nearly 40,000 people to enter the U.S. on direct flights from China.
Public health experts have also warned that travel bans require considerable governmental resources to enforce that could have been allocated toward other strategies to fight the virus — including the mounting of a comprehensive testing operation.
The inability to screen Americans for the virus on a wider scale as it began spreading within the U.S. has been perhaps the most criticized aspect of the administration’s early response, in addition to Trump’s attempts to downplay the nature of the disease’s threat.
WHO was instrumental in bolstering testing efforts in dozens of countries at the outset of the international crisis, while the U.S. opted against using the agency’s kits and struggled to develop its own tests.
Trump’s suggestion to reduce WHO’s funding comes after he already proposed in the White House’s budget request for fiscal year 2021 to cut in half the amount Congress allocated the agency in 2020 — from roughly $122 million to less than $58 million.
Among WHO’s 194 member states, the U.S. remains its greatest contributor, accounting for roughly 2.5 percent of the agency’s $4.8 billion budget.
Alice Ollstein contributed to this report.