Coveney decries Trump WHO move

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. photo.

By Irish Echo Staff

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, has joined a chorus of international criticism of President Donald Trump's decision to withhold U.S. funding from the Geneva-based World Health Organization.

Coveney described the move as being an "indefensible decision."

Mr. Coveney said that in the midst of a global pandemic, so many vulnerable people relied on the WHO and to deliberately undermine funding and trust at this point was "shocking."

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"Now is a time for global leadership and unity to save lives, not division and blame," Coveney said.

Mr. Coveney's comments, according to an RTE report, came as a former director of the WHO said he does not believe the U.S. will actually go ahead with plans to halt funding to the UN health body.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today show with Sean O’Rourke, Professor Anthony Costello said that for the U.S. to go ahead with this order would "be extremely damaging to America's reputation worldwide, especially given how much support the WHO gives to the world's poorest countries in terms of testing and research and development."

Professor Costello said the WHO has been dealing with "under-funding and neglect" for some time and the organization’s funding has been progressively cut for the last twenty years.

He said that in early February, the WHO had asked for $675 million "to go towards their global health strengthening program for this virus."

In relation to Mr. Trump's claims that the WHO had promoted China's "disinformation" about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak than otherwise would have occurred, Prof. Costello said the organization may have been "too deferential" to China, but it had to manage the situation and ensure that a mission could get access to the country.

"You can criticize them for being too deferential, but the problem for the WHO is that it has to work with countries that hide data, that cover up things and they just have to do their best to get in as soon as they can because if they upset the country they may get no access at all," Costello said.

The European Union has joined worldwide condemnation of Mr. Trump's decision, saying it was unjustified during the coronavirus pandemic, the RTE report added.

Mr. Trump told the White House news conference Tuesday that the WHO had "failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable."

The United States is the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.

The WHO has been appealing for more than $1 billion to fund operations against the pandemic. The agency needs more resources than ever as it leads the global response against the disease, the RTE report concluded.