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Spotlight: WHO backed by countries as U.S. browbeats it



The World Health Organization (WHO) is broadly backed by the international community, even though U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday threatened to permanently cut its funding to the organization.

In a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a copy of which was published by Trump on Twitter, the president said that he could reconsider the U.S. membership in the organization.

The threat came as the world continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 4.89 million people globally and killed over 320,000.


Many countries and organizations have rallied around the WHO as the United States browbeat it.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that Trump's letter is an attempt to mislead the public and to smear China, as well as shirk its own responsibility.

At this crucial juncture of the global fight against the pandemic, to support the WHO is to safeguard the ideals and principles of multilateralism, support international cooperation and the battle to save lives as well, said Zhao, adding that China will, as always, support the WHO's leading role in international cooperation against COVID-19 and will continue to support the WHO's work through various means.

"The WHO should not become a puck to be passed back and forth pursuing goals other than those of building most efficient international cooperation against the pandemic," TASS news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying at a meeting with Russian lawmakers.

Ryabkov said that Russia is against politicizing everything related to the spread of the coronavirus and is in favor of finding ways that would allow us to advance toward a more effective solution to the problems associated with the pandemic, to consolidate the role of the WHO and to prevent its weakening.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, said that the bloc "supports international cooperation and multilateral solutions in this crisis -- in the pandemic crisis."

"The European Union backs the WHO in its efforts to contain and mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak and has already provided additional funding to support these efforts," the spokeswoman said. "Global cooperation and solidarity through multilateral efforts are the only effective and viable option to win this battle, as we have underlined several times."

Tedros said in his closing remarks at the World Health Assembly on Tuesday that the WHO will "continue providing strategic leadership to coordinate the global response."

"Let hope be the antidote to fear. Let solidarity be the antidote to division. Let our shared humanity be the antidote to our shared threat," Tedros said.


Trump's letter has been blasted by many specialists and experts who have pointed out the importance of global cooperation and solidarity against the coronavirus outbreak.

"I think the idea of punishing the WHO right now probably also ends up punishing us," CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta said in a TV show on Tuesday.

"An infection anywhere is an infection everywhere. And the WHO still, in addition to the clinical trials they're doing, has best vision on these countries around the world," Gupta was quoted by CNN as saying.

The United States alone has reported more than 1.5 million infections and over 90,000 deaths as of Wednesday morning, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. Both figures are far higher than those in any other country or region.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Trump has increasingly blamed others as he has been confronted with criticism for the U.S. response to the pandemic, and that "public-health experts have said the Trump administration did not adequately respond to the crisis in the early days of the U.S. outbreak."

Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, tweeted that Trump's letter "is written for his base and to deflect blame."

"Trump doesn't understand what (the) WHO can and cannot do," Sridhar said.

Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law and director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, tweeted on Tuesday that the letter to Tedros "is like a bully making a threat" and "factually it's wrong."

Gostin, also the director of the WHO collaborating center on national and global health law, questioned Trump's ability to carry out the threats, arguing that the U.S. "Congress won't support leaving" the organization.

The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, rebuked Trump after he incorrectly cited research it published on the coronavirus outbreak, saying that "this statement is factually incorrect."

"The allegations leveled against WHO in President Trump's letter are serious and damaging to efforts to strengthen international cooperation to control this pandemic," the journal said in a statement.


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