President Donald Trump says he has directed a halt to US payments to the World Health Organisation pending a review of its warnings about coronavirus and China.
President Trump says the outbreak could have been contained at its source and spared lives had the UN health agency done a better job investigating reports coming out of China.
The United States contributed nearly $900 million (£711 million) to the WHO’s budget for 2018-19, according to information on the agency’s website.
The president says the world depends on the World Health Organisation to work with countries to make sure accurate information about health threats are shared in a timely manner.
He said the organisation failed to carry out its “basic duty” and must be held accountable.
But Mr Trump says the US will continue to engage with the organisation in pursuit of what he calls meaningful reforms.
There was no immediate comment from the Geneva-based organisation on Mr Trump’s announcement.
But when asked about possible US funding cuts during a regular UN briefing earlier on Tuesday, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris responded, “Regardless of any issues, our work will go on”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responded to the president’s announcement by saying now is not the time to end support for the World Health Organisation, calling the WHO “absolutely critical” to the global effort to combat Covid-19.
Mr Guterres said that it is possible that different entities read the facts differently but that the appropriate time for a review is “once we have finally turned the page on this pandemic”.
That represents one-fifth of its total budget for those years.
More than 125,000 deaths worldwide, including more than 25,000 in the US, have been blamed on the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Asked on Tuesday about the appropriateness of seeking to cut the WHO’s funding in the middle of a worldwide viral outbreak, Mr Trump said the review would last 60 to 90 days.
“This is an evaluation period, but in the meantime, we’re putting a hold on all funds going to World Health,” the president said.
He has also complained that other countries give substantially less than the US, singling out China.
The American Medical Association (AMA) immediately called on Mr Trump to reconsider his decision.
“During the worst public health crisis in a century, halting funding to the World Health Organisation is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating Covid-19 easier,” AMA President Patrice Harris said in a statement.
Ms Harris said international cooperation is needed to fight the virus, along with science and data.
“Cutting funding to the WHO, rather than focusing on solutions, is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world,” she said.