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WHO weighs impact of U.S. pullout; Pelosi vows to oppose defunding

WHO weighs impact of U.S. pullout; Pelosi vows to oppose defunding
U.S. President Donald Trump says in a White House briefing Tuesday that he's instructed his administration to withdraw funding to the World Health Organization. Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

April 15 (UPI) -- The director-general of the World Health Organization said Wednesday the global body will take action to shore up any funding gaps that arise from U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull fiscal support.

The U.S. leader said Tuesday he was withdrawing funding because his administration suspects the WHO has "mismanaged" and "covered up" elements related to the global coronavirus outbreak. It's a decision that was criticized earlier Wednesday by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said the middle of a pandemic is not the time for the United States -- the WHO's primary donor -- to hamper its efforts.

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WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agreed at a news conference in Geneva Wednesday.

"The United States of America has been a longstanding and generous friend to WHO, and we hope it will continue to be so," he said. "We regret the decision of the president of the United States to order a halt in funding to the World Health Organization.

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"WHO is reviewing the impact on our work of any withdrawal of U.S. funding and will work with our partners to fill any financial gaps we face and to ensure our work continues uninterrupted."

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In his announcement, Trump also said the move aims to hold the WHO accountable for failing to adequately obtain, vet and share information about the virus in a "timely and transparent fashion."

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi characterized Trump's move as "dangerous" and "illegal" and vowed it will be "swiftly challenged." Other Democrats condemned the president's move as yet another example of how his response to the crisis has been a total failure.

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"The president does not have the unilateral authority to withhold the United States' assessed contribution to the World Health Organization," said House appropriations committee spokesman Evan Hollander. "Moreover, refusing to fund the WHO is a foolish step that only weakens international tools to fight this pandemic and future global health emergencies."

A government official, however, told Politico that language in spending bills this year for the State Department and other programs gives Trump "broad discretion" in giving money to the WHO.

The head of the organization, however, dismissed accountability as a reason for Trump's decision -- saying the WHO's efforts to fight any pandemic are always reviewed by member states for transparency, anyway.

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"When we are divided, the virus exploits the cracks between us. Ghebreyesus said. "We are committed to serving the world's people, and to accountability for the resources with which we are entrusted.

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"In due course, WHO's performance in tackling this pandemic will be reviewed by WHO's member states and the independent bodies that are in place to ensure transparency and accountability."

Ghebreyesus said 1.5 million people study WHO online courses for information and methods to fight the spread of the virus, and over 90 countries have joined or expressed interest in WHO's Solidarity Trials. Over 900 patients are enrolled in evaluations for four drugs and drug combinations that could effectively fight COVID-19.

He also said a plane carrying medical supplies has been deployed to African countries as part of the $150 million Solidarity Response Fund. An upcoming concert to be broadcast worldwide on April 18 will also support the fund.

Scenes from a pandemic: World copes with COVID-19

A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

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