US President Donald Trump announced he would be halting funding to the World Health Organisation as it battles to contain the worst pandemic in more than a century.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019 which is roughly 15 per cent of the group’s budget.
That’s led to a lot of people asking: What does the WHO actually do? Why are they being criticised? Here’s a breakdown of what WHO does and what is at stake.
What actually is the World Health Organisation?
The WHO is a United Nations agency that works with member nations to combat diseases like influenza and HIV, as well as diseases like cancer and heart disease.
The WHO was formed in 1948, and boasts 7000 people working in 150 country offices across the world.
Like all other UN agencies its headquarters are based in Geneva, Switzerland.
But what does the WHO actually do to help improve people’s health?
The WHO establishes health programs and initiatives in countries of need – this may mean working with governments to bring funding into a vaccination program, or ensuring that rural villages have access to clean water.
The WHO’s primary role is to effectively co-ordinate the United Nation’s responses to major health challenges facing the world – including COVID-19.
Does the WHO have any successes in the past?
It does. In 2017, the WHO organised and administered some 3.5 million vaccine doses in Brazil following an outbreak of yellow fever. It’s thought that quick action has seriously stemmed the flow of yellow fever to more serious levels.
In the 1950s the WHO paved the way for the delivery of vaccines against Polio, which led to a near eradication of the disease.
In 1979, after decades fighting the disease, smallpox was eliminated from the globe.
In 2006 the WHO announced that the number of children dying before their fifth birthday had declined below 10 million – the result of numerous campaigns to improve infant health across the world.
So then why is the WHO being criticised?
Some people, including US President Donald Trump, believe the WHO was too slow in recognising and categorising the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic.
Mr Trump said the US would be reviewing the WHO’s role in “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”.
“One of the most dangerous decisions from the WHO was its disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations,” Mr Trump said.
“They were very much opposed to what we did. Fortunately I was not convinced and suspended travel from China, saving untold amounts of lives – thousands and thousands of people would’ve died.”
Has the WHO responded to Donald Trump’s claims?
It has, but not forcefully. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was not the time to reduce resources for the WHO.
“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” he said in a statement.
Even Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been asked about the move. Our PM said it was “unfathomable” that the WHO supported re-opening China’s wet markets. But he also said Australia will continue to support WHO.
“But that said, the WHO also as an organisation does a lot of important work including here in our region in the Pacific and we work closely with them,” Morrison said on radio this morning.
“We’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, but they’re also not immune from criticism and immune from doing things better.”
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