Advocates Condemn Cuts to WHO

April 16, 2020

AVAC, Health GAP, KEI and TAG

AVAC, Health GAP, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) and Treatment Action Group (TAG) strongly condemn the Trump Administration’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the midst of the urgent COVID-19 global health crisis.

“In a time where international cooperation on public health strategy, science, data and information sharing is more urgently needed than ever before, the Trump Administration has made an incredibly shortsighted decision to pull critical commitments to the WHO,” commented Mark Harrington, Executive Director of TAG. “Cutting global health funding in the middle of a pandemic will only prolong the devastating loss of life and economic damage in the US and across the world, and undermine the response to other infectious diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C.”

WHO plays a central role in developing normative guidance, and coordinating data and best practices in public health for its member states to implement through national programs and policy. This ensures in-country public health responses on-the-ground are backed by data and science, particularly in countries where COVID-19 continues to surge.

“WHO coordination, guidance and mobilization of the public health response is tremendously important for supporting countries with struggling with limited resources, conflict and other humanitarian and ecological disaster-related crises,” explains Suraj Madoori, TAG’s US and Global Health Policy Director. “The COVID-19 epidemic will devastate already constrained health systems without the good global governance, cooperation, transparency, protection of human rights, access to health technologies for all—principles embodied by the WHO.”

The US contributes $893 million to WHO over two-years, accounting for nearly 15 percent of the agency’s budget. According to the WHO, funding contributions from the US government support a range of pandemic response activities, including prevention and control of outbreaks, emergency operations, strengthening surveillance and early warning management. Moreover, roughly $89 million (10 percent) of US funding to WHO supports tuberculosis (TB), HIV and hepatitis programming at the agency – placing even more pressure on the global response to these diseases, which has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 and the COVID-19 response in many countries.

“The Trump administration’s efforts to deflect and distract will be deadly for people living with HIV, particularly in countries that are in desperate need of increased emergency funding to bolster health systems that could be pushed to their limit by COVID-19,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of the Health Global Access Project (Health GAP). “Defunding the WHO shows the administration’s callous disregard for human life. Congress should take immediate steps to protect and in fact increase the US investment in global health.”

Developing the guidance, surveillance, treatments, diagnostics and vaccines needed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic requires increased resources and international cooperation. To date, in the US there are an over 600,000 confirmed cases, and an estimated 26,000 deaths.

“Even with a perfect response to COVID-19 in the US, which is far from the case, we would still need WHO’s global efforts to help ensure that the pandemic is brought under control across the globe,” said Mitchell Warren, AVAC’s Executive Director. “Without robust international cooperation and WHO leadership, we cannot end this pandemic.”

This virus respects no borders. COVID-19 anywhere can quickly become COVID-19 everywhere. The US government must immediately restore and protect funding to WHO and work to ensure global cooperation in the pandemic response.

“The WHO needs to be fully operational and Trump’s comments are a massive distraction. The US already has enormous influence on WHO policies, but Trump’s comments and actions will reduce this, and breed deep and lasting resentment to the US around the world,” warned James Love, Executive Director for KEI.

AVAC, Health GAP, KEI and TAG urgently calls on Congress to take action to ensure that no appropriated funding to the WHO and global health partners is withheld in a time of critical need to address the growing COVID-19 crisis.

Thank you for helping us carry this message forward! And stay tuned for continuing resources and key messages that advocates can use to fight the epidemics we face today.