US funding withdrawal to WHO amid COVID-19 pandemic redefines physical distancing

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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus briefs virtually on the COVID-19 pandemic in Geneva [UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe]

By Caribbean News Global fav

GENEVA, Switzerland — World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday after the United States announced that it was cutting funding to the UN health agency, pending a review of how the agency responded to the initial outbreak in China that first surfaced at the very end of December, upheld the importance of international solidarity in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic as a “dangerous enemy” to all humanity.

“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 WHO”, underlined the agency’s commitment to serving the world’s people, but also to accountability for the use of its resources.

“In due course” director-general Ghebreyesus stated, “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. This is part of the usual process put in place by our Member States”, he said

President Donald Trump said WHO “failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable” promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak. US funding withdrawal to WHO approximates 15 percent of the UN agency budget, the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019.

According to director-general Ghebreyesus, WHO is reviewing the impact the funding withdrawal will have on its operations. “The agency has begun working with partners to fill any resulting financial gaps, to ensure that its activities can continue uninterrupted,” in keeping with WHO’s fundamental and founding commitment to public health, science, and its mandate to work with all nations on equal terms.

“COVID-19 does not discriminate between rich nations and poor, large nations and small. It does not discriminate between nationalities, ethnicities or ideologies”, Ghebreyesus said. “Neither do we. This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat – a dangerous enemy”.

Reactions to US funding withdrawal

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at a special emergency meeting Wednesday, April 15, 2020, via video conference, expressed regret that “resources for WHO were being threatened at a time when all must join in leading the fight against the pandemic.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the 27-nation bloc “deeply” regrets the suspension of funds and added that the UN health agency is now “needed more than ever” to combat the pandemic. “Only by joining forces can we overcome this crisis that knows no borders,” he said.

Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said “The move sends the wrong message during the middle of a pandemic.”

Chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Democratic representative Eliot Engel said: “With each passing day of this worsening crisis, the president is showing us his political playbook: Blame the WHO, blame China, blame his political opponents, blame his predecessors – do whatever it takes to deflect from the fact that his administration mismanaged this crisis and it’s now costing thousands of American lives.”

Solidarity trial

In an update on the “Solidarity Trial” launched on March 18, Director-general Ghebreyesus said, that more than 90 countries have either joined or expressed interest in the initiative to compare the effectiveness of four treatment options, with more than 900 patients enrolled.

“Three vaccines have already started clinical trials, more than 70 others are in development, and we’re working with partners to accelerate the development, production, and distribution of vaccines”, Ghebreyesus added “groups of clinicians to study the impact of corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs on treatment outcomes, has also convened,” he said.

“Specifically, we are looking at oxygen use and ventilation strategies in patients”, adding that “any intervention that reduces the need for ventilation and improves outcomes for critically ill patients is important – especially in low-resource settings, to save lives”.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said he sympathised with Trump’s criticisms of the WHO, especially its support of reopening China’s “wet markets” where freshly slaughtered animals are sold and where the outbreak first appeared in the city of Wuhan late last year. However, “We are not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, but they are also not immune from criticism and immune from doing things better.”

TAIWAN can help

In conjunction with UN agencies and other partners such as 127 prominent European politicians have signed petitions expressing support for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO amid the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Taiwan has proved that it can help and is helping battle COVID-19 donated 100,000 medical masks to the State of Florida. The same is being done worldwide as Taiwan transforms from an importer to the world’s second-largest producer of medical masks, with a daily production capacity of over 13 million pieces.

Taiwan leadership in the era of COVID-19 is a practical and scientific exemplary outline by David Chien, Director-General of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Miami. “ I believe Taiwan’s successful containment of the big-scale spread of COVID-19 lies in the following three P’s. Precaution, Prevention, and Preparation.”

Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou, said recently, the WHO needed to “continue to review and improve upon some unreasonable restrictions imposed on Taiwan based on political considerations”.

A US State Department note that coincides with Taiwan optimistic on the global stage said, “recently, the United States and Taiwan announced enhanced cooperation on preventing the spread of COVID-19.” And that, “working with Taiwan and like-minded countries to expand Taiwan’s international participation is an important part of that effort. Countries around the world can benefit from better understanding the Taiwan Model, as well as the generous contributions and impressive expertise Taiwan – a vibrant democracy and force for good – brings to the global community.”

#Physical distancing

Staying safe, social and sane with millions now forced to stay and work at home WHO officials have reminds people worldwide. “There is no doubt that restrictive measures, stay-at-home orders, restriction of movement, have been quite isolating for people, and all the more isolating for people who are already isolated or vulnerable”, said Dr Michael Ryan, executive director, in response to a journalist’s question about mental health during the pandemic.

Dr Ryan said like the rest of the world, WHO wants to do away with “these more draconian lockdowns”, which will require governments to step up investment in areas such as public health infrastructure and community education.

Dr Maria van Kerhkove of WHO’s Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Unit, recalled that the agency has replaced the expression “social distancing” with “physical distancing” to emphasize the importance of human contact.

Trump’s withdrawal of funding redefines WHO’s expressions of “social distancing” with “physical distancing”, now extends ‘a dangerous step in the wrong direction’ COVID-19 budget cuts.

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