At height of pandemic, Trump halts funds for WHO
Trump speaking in White House Rose Garden. | Alex Brandon/AP

At an angry blame-shifting press conference yesterday, Trump announced he is halting funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), the world’s premier health organization founded by the UN in 1948.

He accused the organization of delays and of committing every single misstep that he and his administration have committed in the handling of the coronavirus crisis.

All day today there has been swift and mounting backlash coming from all around the world. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the UN General Secretary, U.S. lawmakers from both parties, and leaders of countries from every corner of the globe are condemning the action which the president announced in a prepared speech that was riddled with lies.

Even Trump’s own CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, insisted that the WHO is a critical part of the worldwide fight against the rapidly-spreading coronavirus.

Dr. Robert Davidson, executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare, said this morning that “the WHO needs to be propped up, not torn down,” since it is the only healthcare apparatus in place in many countries around the world.

He and other medical leaders note that, without the WHO, epidemics can start in other countries and then spread here. The Trump decision to defund the WHO threatens lives, they say, because it makes more possible severe outbreaks in developing nations that can result in second and even third waves of infection in developed countries like the U.S.

Trump’s claims about the WHO, especially his claim that the organization’s slowness to react has resulted in 20 times the number of deaths that would have otherwise occurred, were entirely false.

The WHO established an emergency commission to deal with the pandemic only one day after it first confirmed the developments in China, on December 31, 2019.

Throughout January, it sent out bulletins, battle plans, and massive amounts of test kits to countries around the world. It developed a detailed battle plan including testing, contact tracing, and isolation. Following the WHO protocol beginning January 10, South Korea was one of the first countries to make serious progress in the battle against the disease.

During that same month, the organization declared a worldwide health emergency, sending out guidelines which the Trump administration ignored for months.

It launched numerous operations around the world to streamline testing and to develop and test treatments and vaccines.

Since Trump took office, he has refused to allow the U.S. to participate in a special WHO division studying and researching epidemics that have the potential to turn into pandemics.

The president lied even about the funding that the U.S. has provided to the WHO. The usual annual amount of funding has approximated $300 million, not the $500 million Trump claimed. At times, the amount has been higher, but that was usually when there were special efforts, like the fight against Ebola, which the U.S., during the Obama administration, helped lead.

Trump’s attack on the WHO followed by one day exposés in The New York Times and The Washington Post documenting the delays and incompetence in his administration’s dealings with the pandemic. His attacks were completely in line with his usual course of finding others to blame whenever his own failures are exposed.

It appears that his blame game is backfiring as the world watches in shock as the U.S., the country they had expected would lead the world out of the crisis, is itself ravaged by a virus many other countries are handling more effectively.

The lies about the WHO were not the only ones Trump told at his briefing yesterday.

He had promised that he would, on Tuesday, unveil a major task force to “rescue” the crashing economy.

Instead, he essentially filibustered on this issue by reading off the names of almost 100 major corporations and banks he falsely claimed are part of his new task force.

Reporters spending last night and this morning trying to seek confirmation from these companies have been unable to get any of the CEOs to admit being part of the alleged task force.

Trump also tried to cover up his outrageous claims a day earlier that he had “total authority” to re-open the country whenever he wished by saying he would, instead, “authorize” the governors to do this.

Trump never took any of the decisive actions taken by the nation’s governors who, without necessary federal assistance, have had to initiate their own social distancing, economic closures, and stay-at-home orders.

He continued to push for re-opening the economy “very soon.” A reporter pointed out that current death projections are based on the shutdowns continuing until the end of May so that an earlier start up would mean more deaths. The reporter asked Trump whether he had thought about that. The president didn’t answer. He stormed off the podium yesterday, abruptly ending the briefing without giving the medical officials, Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, a chance to speak or answer questions.


CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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