U.S. Picks Worst Possible Moment to Cut Funding to WHO

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  • April 28, 2020

Cutting funding will make U.S. vulnerable to COVID-19

by Padmini Murthy MD, MPH, FAMWA, FRSPH

The interconnectivity of the world has never been more evident than at present as illustrated by the COVID crisis. As a professor, often I have told my graduate students in public health that we need a passport and visa for travel but not a disease as it can cross geographic boundaries easily and often undetected. This fact has been highlighted by the recent global onslaught of pandemics in the past decade.

The roles of public health entities such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are crucial as they serve as guardians of the health of global communities. It is no exaggeration to refer to them as sentinels during pandemics.

The member states of the United Nations since the formation of the World Health Conference have funded the activities of UN agencies including the WHO.

On a personal note, I have the honor of  representing my NGO as a focal point at the World Health Organization, I have had the opportunity and privilege of working with colleagues in the WHO on maternal and child health, including women’s health. A working partnership between the WHO and health NGOs in official relations with the WHO are crucial in advancing the health of global communities and even more so during global pandemics such as the current COVID crisis.

I have attended the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva at the WHO headquarters and have to come to learn firsthand the work done by WHO headquarters, their country offices, and their local partners to promote the targets specific to United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 3 “ Ensure  Healthy Lives  and Promote Wellbeing For all at All Ages.”

On Tuesday April 14th, the announcement that the United States would cut funding to the World Health Organization has provoked mixed global reactions especially as the number of people affected by the coronavirus is at an all time high of 2 million cases. This decision to withdraw funding pending a review of the actions and role of the organization in addressing the pandemic could not come at a worse time. This cut in funding results in a substantial blow to the WHO as in 2018- 2019 the United States contributed $400 million out of the 6-billion-dollar budget to the WHO and was the largest donor providing 15% of the annual budget.

The WHO has been playing a crucial role since its inception in April 1948, providing support, assistance and advice to low and mid income countries on crucial public health issues and challenges faced.

In my opinion, the United States puts itself in a vulnerable position by cutting funding to the WHO. It will be more challenging to address this global catastrophe, which will have both a direct and an indirect causal effect on the U.S. economy and societal well-being.

It is no exaggeration to say that the World Health Organization has been at the forefront in addressing global pandemics by being an important partner in the GOARN – ( Global Outbreak and Response Network) and by providing the necessary technical expertise and skills on the ground where and when they are needed most. WHO has been at the focal point in coordination of multidisciplinary efforts by proving human and technical resources to facilitate rapid identification and timely response to international outbreaks.

The COVID pandemic is a global fire and continues to burn unabated. We are all vulnerable to the effects of this burning inferno, and the member states of the United Nations. including the USA need to be enabling the World Health Organization in its crucial role as first responder rather than imposing monetary sanctions.

Padmini Murthy

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