Looking for Someone to Blame?By Miriam Bello | Wed, 04/15/2020 - 11:22
Now that the US has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, criticism against President Trump and his reaction to the outbreak has been severely present, to the point of wondering if he should fire his advisor on the epidemic, Dr. Fauci, who is also head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
President Trump and the rest of his cabinet have been more worried about economy and “America First,” assuring in February that the virus was contained and urging the population and all activities to go back to normal. On April 14, he even said that “hopefully the country will re-open ahead of schedule,” which is on May 1st.
This week, in the middle of a world’s pandemic, President Trump has decided to stop funding WHO due to “severe mismanagement of its COVID-19 response.” He also got political saying that the organization was acting in favor of China, where the virus originated and where things are now going back to normal. Trump’s declarations against WHO have been dismissed by many specialists who have labeled them as unfair. At a time when unity and cooperation are needed the most, an action like this can be brutal, even if it just a matter of political power.
The US had been the first largest contributor to WHO, representing 15 percent of the organization’s budget: between US$400 million and US$500 million per year, according to Trump’s declaration. Member countries also pay a mandatory membership fee, which for the US was of US$116 million for 2020-2021. Mandatory membership typically accounts for less than a quarter of WHO's financing. The rest is mobilized through voluntary contributions that allow the donor country to specify which global public issues they want the money to be spent on. The US does not currently have a representative on WHO's executive board.
WHO, like other UN agencies, has relied on American money, expertise and rule-making. The more realistic option is for the US to lead a determined international effort to end the pandemic. There is extensive precedent for such leadership not just in wartime but in the field of global health. In 2003, the administration of President George W. Bush recognized the spread of HIV/AIDS as a threat not only to global health but also to global and US security. This leadership also happened in response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014, when President Barack Obama worked closely with the UN, WHO and foreign governments to contain and treat the deadly disease. Actions included sending teams of US experts to assist other countries. In the current crisis, however, the US has exercised no such leadership.
President Trump has declared in several occasions that he is not the president on the world, that he is the president of the US. However, even under the “America First” banner, awareness that this epidemic is a threat to US national security has to come, mostly considering the number of unfortunate deaths of US citizens.
WHO might be far from perfection but unity, leadership and commitment to fully wanting to help each other is key to overcome this crisis that is affecting every single country. WHO has been learning how to approach the virus and to contain it and if first declarations are different from now is because of the evolution of the outbreak and the epidemic itself. Instead of finding someone to blame, it might just be better to fight together to combat this global threat.