ARROW’s Statement on President Trump’s Move to Defund the WHO

April 16, 2020

The COVID-19 global pandemic demonstrates the need for nations to be united to protect and promote the health, well-being and lives of people. Currently, we are still in the intense, heightening phase of the pandemic, and this is precisely the critical point for us to stand united in global action rather than to engage in the blame game, nor to reduce funding, services, medicines or equipment to agencies and institutions who are on the frontlines. 

In this respect, U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to stop funding the World Health Organisation (WHO) is deeply troubling. This move severely deprives the WHO of the resources it needs to deal with the crisis. By extension, this move will deprive poorer nations of necessary aid and expertise in this struggle against the virus.  

The WHO plays a critical role at this point of time when countries are experimenting with different strategies to mitigate the infectious spread of the virus, and to balance the health of people and the economy. As of today, COVID-19 has infected more than 2 million people, and claimed more than 130,000 lives across the globe. 

The WHO, as all other inter-governmental bodies, is bound by limitations. Member states that belong to inter-governmental bodies, more often than not, act in national self-interest, in the way that they share information, data and strategies. This has been evident in the past across different issues and is not limited to the current COVID-19 pandemic. In fact it is the prerogative of member states to freely and willingly share these in order to inform global norms, practices, strategies and responses. 

President Trump’s decision will have major ramifications for the worldwide health response to the coronavirus pandemic. The United States is the WHO’s largest donor, and its contribution accounted for 20% of the WHO’s budget in the last two years. 

These funding cuts will cause severe hardship to the WHO and the global community it serves, especially poorer countries who desperately need aid, medicines, equipment, and expertise during this global pandemic. It will also mean that the WHO will find it tough to coordinate international efforts around best medicine mix, vaccine research, mitigation strategies around COVID-19. 

Though this funding cut stemmed from unhappiness around the handling of the COVID-19, it will affect progress towards global health as a whole. The U.S. funds WHO’s programmes across a broad spectrum of health issues: polio eradication, health and nutrition, vaccine preventable diseases, tuberculosis, HIV – and preventing and controlling outbreaks. If the U.S. extends these cuts to all global health initiatives coordinated by the WHO, it is likely people in low income countries will lose access to essential life-saving services and medicines. It will affect most marginalised groups, the poor, and women and girls who depend on free services. This will be the unkindest cut of all – further exacerbating existing inequalities that these groups face. 

ARROW strongly urges the U.S. government to rethink this decision, and recommit to the agenda of global health amidst a global pandemic. We stand in solidarity with the WHO, institutions of healthcare, healthcare workers, humanitarian organisations, and NGOs in the fight against this deadly virus. It is untimely and unseemly to allow politics to determine public health. Now is the time to stand together, as a global community, for the fight of our lives – FOR our lives. 

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