Coronavirus: Donald Trump threatens to permanently cut off World Health Organisation funding

19 May 2020, 05:44 | Updated: 19 May 2020, 14:16

Donald Trump has threatened to permanently pull funding from the World Health Organisation (WHO) unless it commits to improvements within 30 days.

The US president said he would also reconsider the country's WHO membership, previously saying the global health body did a "very sad job" in handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Trump suspended US contributions to the WHO last month, accusing it of promoting China's "disinformation" about the virus outbreak.

WHO officials denied the accusation, saying at the time: "We are still in the acute phase of a pandemic so now is not the time to cut back on funding."

In a letter to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, posted on Twitter on Monday, Mr Trump wrote: "If the WHO does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the WHO permanent and reconsider our membership."

He said the body needs to demonstrate its independence from China, and revealed that the administration had already started reform discussions with Mr Ghebreyesus.

"The only way forward for the World Health Organisation is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China... I cannot allow American taxpayer dollars to continue to finance an organisation that, in its present state, is so clearly not serving America's interests," the letter said.

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Last month the Trump administration accused the UN health agency of being "China-centric".

The president said the body had "failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable" for its handling of the crisis.

Mr Trump argued that the virus - which has infected more than 4.8 million people worldwide - could have been contained at its source if the WHO had been better at investigating the initial reports that emerged from China.

It is not immediately clear how Mr Trump would withhold funds, much of which are appropriated by Congress.

The president does not typically have the authority to unilaterally redirect congressional funding.

Critics claim Mr Trump is attempting to use Beijing to deflect from shortcomings in his own response to the pandemic.

Prof Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health, University of Edinburgh, said: "This letter is written for his base and to deflect blame. China and the US are fighting it out like divorced parents while WHO is the child caught in the middle trying not to pick sides."

The US has by far the world's highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 1.5 million infections and over 90,000 deaths.