Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian prime minister who headed the World Health Organization (WHO) for five years, is blasting US President Donald Trump for halting funding to the UN organization in the midst of the global Corona virus crisis. Trump claims WHO failed to act quickly enough to halt the spread of the virus, as he fends off criticism that he’s guilty of just the same.
Trump declared at yet another of his strictly controlled press conferences late Tuesday that WHO had failed to gather, study and share information about the virus when it first broke out in China in December of last year. He also accused WHO of hiding how serious the virus was, and spreading disinformation from China about the virus.
Trump went so far as to blame the WHO for the extent of the Corona pandemic, and claimed that countless lives and economic destruction could have been spared if WHO had “done its job” and sent medical experts to China earlier than it did. His assault on the WHO comes after he’s been under attack himself, for downplaying and even dismissing concerns about virus in January and February. Now the US stands for around a fifth of all the world’s fatalities from the Corona illness known as COVID-19, which already has killed more than 25,000 Americans.
Trump’s sudden assault on the WHO brought a strong reaction from Brundtland, who’s also been a key member of the UN’s “Elders” group that has included such luminaries as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, former US President Jimmy Carter and former UN leaders Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon.
“The last thing we need now is to attack the WHO,” Brundtland told news bureau NTB on Wednesday. She thinks Trump is acting against the best interests of both the US and the rest of the world in criticizing and cutting off funding to the only global organization with oversight and authority that’s otherwise respected by national leaders around the world.
“WHO has both the necessary experience and the power to have an overview and share information,” Brundtland said. At the same time, she added, the WHO “can support all countries” in the international battle against the ongoing Corona crisis.
Norwegian Health Minister Bent Høie, who’s been fronting most of Norway’s own battle against the virus on behalf of the country’s conservative government, was quick to speak out against Trump’s decision to damage WHO.
“It’s more important and critical than ever to support the important international work that’s being done to stop the pandemic,” Høie said. “Norway believes we must strengthen WHO in its work, not weaken the organization.”
‘Dangerous step in the wrong direction’
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also reacted to Trump’s decision to freeze funding to the WHO. “This is not the time to reduce resources to the World Health Organization or other humanitarian organization, in the fight against the virus,” Guterres said in a statement.
Even the US’ own American Medical Association, the powerful national organization representing doctors, was shocked by Trump’s decision and was “strongly” urging him “to reconsider”. Its leader, Dr Patrice A Harris, called Trump’s decision “a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier. Fighting a global pandemic requires international cooperation and reliance on science and data. Cutting funding to the WHO, rather than focusing on solutions, is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world.”
The US has been the largest contributor to the WHO, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to support various projects in addition to its annual support that currently amounts to around USD 116 million. Trump, who has often been skeptical about international organizations and multilateral cooperation, has also criticized WHO in the past.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and French President Emmanual Macron are among national leaders who have defended the WHO and stressed that the organization should be strengthened to meet future challenges. The prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand have also stressed the need to maintain support for the WHO, while Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated on social media Wednesday that “the best medicine in the fight againt the Corona virus is to strengthen, not weaken the WHO.”