Donald Trump’s decision to suspend funding for the World Health Organisation over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been condemned by UK experts.
The US president accused the international body of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the spread of the virus.
Mr Trump said the administration would suspend funding of up to £400 million (500 million US dollars) a year for the organisation.
He said US taxpayers are the largest contributors to the WHO, dwarfing the amount paid by China.
Mr Trump claimed the WHO had made a “disastrous” decision to oppose travel restrictions from China but the president said his actions in ignoring that advice had saved “untold numbers of lives”.
But scientists railed against Mr Trump’s actions and stressed the need for international co-operation in tackling Covid-19.
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said: “Politically volatile leadership is rarely constructive or helpful at times of crisis.”
The USA has provided 77% of coronavirus research investment, he said.
“The WHO role is more taking new knowledge from research and creating policy, guidance, and surveillance,” Dr Head said.
“But if the USA acts provocatively over global health and biosecurity, it will become a very big problem.
“The effects would be seen worldwide, but also rebounding back on to the USA where high-threat pathogens would be more likely to occur in future.”
I suspect this move has the support of precisely 0% of the US scientific and healthcare communities, and, I would hope, only a small minority of the population as a whole. The situation in the US and the world over amounts to a crisis, and one in which we must stand together. WHO is perhaps one of the best means of achieving this and deserves the support and respect of all countriesDr Stephen Griffin, University of Leeds School of Medicine
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor at the University of Leeds School of Medicine, said: “This most recent intervention in public health policy by President Trump is perhaps one of the least productive, most short-sighted, self-motivated and hypocritical acts I have ever witnessed.
“As far as I can ascertain, it has no foundation in reality.
“I suspect this move has the support of precisely 0% of the US scientific and healthcare communities, and, I would hope, only a small minority of the population as a whole.
“The situation in the US and the world over amounts to a crisis, and one in which we must stand together. WHO is perhaps one of the best means of achieving this and deserves the support and respect of all countries.”
Professor David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist who led the global shutdown of Sars in the early 2000s, said the US funds WHO in two separate ways – through an assessed contribution and through investments into specific initiatives such as the polio eradication, Aids, and tuberculosis programmes.
But it is not yet clear if Mr Trump is planning to cut one or both types of funding, Prof Heymann, who is chairman of WHO’s advisory group on infectious hazards, added.
This pandemic has exposed our international interdependence like never before. The right response is more, not less, co-operationShadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy
He told a press briefing for think-tank Chatham House that if funding is cut for the polio eradication initiative it would have a “big impact”.
He said: “Being an American, I’m very unhappy that the United States would not be providing funding to a multilateral organisation as important as WHO.
“That’s my own personal view, I’m very disappointed if that does occur.”
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “This pandemic has exposed our international interdependence like never before.
“The right response is more, not less, co-operation.
“International institutions will only ever succeed with progressive global leadership, not cynically trying to shift the blame.”
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “Trump’s decision to halt funding for the World Health Organisation at this moment is a dereliction of duty and puts lives at risk around the world.”
There has not yet been an official response from the UK Government.
This is indefensible decision, in midst of global pandemic. So many vulnerable populations rely on â¦@WHOâ© - deliberately undermining funding & trust now is shocking. Now is a time for global leadership & unity to save lives, not division and blame! https://t.co/nOknZnBqDd— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) April 15, 2020
But Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy leader and foreign minister, tweeted that Mr Trump’s decision was “indefensible”.
“So many vulnerable populations rely on @WHO – deliberately undermining funding & trust now is shocking,” he wrote.
“Now is a time for global leadership & unity to save lives, not division and blame!”